Hello! Guess where I am? I’m currently on the 8th floor of a hotel in Shinjuku, downtown Tokyo. I never thought I would return to Japan so soon after my big departure last August, but then I never imagined that Japan would be so interesting to the reading public. I am here for a couple of weeks carrying out interviews for my MA and some magazine articles, initially – and then for a book. I am interviewing foreigners who do strange and interesting jobs or lead oddball lives in Japan; gaijin who do something other than teaching or who go that extra mile. If you fit that category, please do get in touch and I will interview you on my next trip.
Apart from a lot of new buildings, Japan remains unchanged. It is still sunny and warm and clean and efficient and on-time. And Japanese people are as rude as ever. This might surprise people who have never been here but, en masse, the Japanese tend to ignore any situation they have not been trained to deal with. On the subway yesterday, with my suitcase and hand luggage, I was the only one to give up my seat for a very old woman with a walking frame. She continued to thank me profusely for the next three stops, lamenting in Japanese that it was such a pity that, being a foreigner, I could not understand how grateful she was. This was after I had stood up and told her, in Japanese, that I was getting off soon. The belief persists that foreigners cannot possibly understand the Japanese language because it is too unique and difficult. Or else my Japanese was so appalling that she couldn’t understand me. But my Japanese ability seems to have survived 7 months of Norfolk english which I am relieved about. As soon as I arrived, I found myself having a conversation in Japanese with the customs guy who was asking me why I was coming into the country on a tourist visa when I had old resident stamps in my passport. Answer: I am no longer an old resident.
The first thing I did on clearing customs was to buy a Starbuck’s matcha tea latte (syrup nuki de). They are as delicious as ever. And really, really green. Then, after checking into my hotel, I went straight out to the shops to pick up all the Japanese things I need like books, Biore nose strips (very expensive in the UK), Obagi Vitamin C serum, miso-covered rice crackers, vegetable juice containing 24 kinds of veges and 3 kinds of fruit, black soap (my ecxsema likes it), more books, a copy of Shonen Jump (for an essay I have just written), and Body Shop Aloe Vera Exfoliator (empty shelves in the UK). When I went into the Body Shop here, I found the Aloe Vera and tested it on my hand. Instantly, an assistant was at my side with a cotton ball dipped in cleanser. After I had cleaned my hand, she took it from me and put it in the bin (the cotton ball not my hand), all the while exclaiming how wonderful my Japanese was, which is what assistants do when your Japanese isn’t that good but they want to make you feel that better about it. Japanese customer service is as brilliant as ever. Because they are trained to do that.
And at Zara and Gap and even Top Shop, the clothes looked so much more attractive because of the the Japanese way of displaying them. They are THE SAME clothes that I looked at in the UK not 48 hours earlier, but there they were just sagging off hangers or heaped on tables. Here they were displayed on models with all the right matching accessories or lovelingly folded on white tables in colour-coordinated groups. Suddenly, I wanted to buy what 48 hours earlier I wouldn’t have dressed the dog in. (Yes, Japanese dogs are still wearing clothes. I love it.) In Muji they were playing the same mournful Irish ditties that they always play … and they sounded better than they do in the UK. And as I was browsing the chopsticks I saw one of the assistants notice some discarded chewing gum on the stairs, and run over and prise it off with their fingers.
Next I went to Big Camera and Yodobashi to see what’s new in phones and MP3 recorders. There I saw a small key ring-type device which stops you from getting static electric shocks off your car. Also One Direction are advertising Docomo.
In the evening, (having had a couple of hour’s rest) I went with chums to Yamachan to get my Japanese stomach back with tebasaki chicken, gobo sticks, fried tofu and plum sours. I have missed Japanese food very much.
No-one is talking about Fukushima any more. There are no conversations about the origins of any foods, even peaches. However, I have just read in the morning news that the Olympic committee are ‘mulling’ over whether to have the torch relay run through the disaster area. I guess if they run really, really fast there should be no problem.
Finally the cherry blossoms are out. They were out in England when I left but no-one was photographing them. This morning at a Shinjuku temple, I encountered my arch-nemesis – ojisan (Japanese middle-aged man) – out with his high-powered camera, photographing the blossoms. So I joined him.