Tokyo is a vast sprawling metropolis, alive, fun and pulsating with energy. The streets are always busy with traffic but it is the sidewalks that are really crowded. Nowhere is this more evident than the famed Shibuya Crossing, supposedly the busiest crossing in the world
Every couple of minutes the traffic lights in all directions turn red and an army of pedestrians fill the streets,their excited incomprehensible chatter filling the air like a Republican crowd at a Trump convention
It’s in Tokyo that a thought that has been bubbling below the surface suddenly floats to the top.
They all look the same.
Any other race would be extremely offended by that statement
The Japanese are not. They see that as a compliment.
They want to look alike
Have you ever seen a Japanese man or woman with blond hair, or red hair, or even brown hair?
There is a reason for that.
Theirs is an island culture completely different from anywhere else in the world. For two thousand years they lived in isolation never invaded by any other country. The only exception being the brief American Occupation at the end of World War II
They do not have a multi ethnic population and strive to keep it that way.
To emphasise their individuality as a race, individuality as a personal trait is not encouraged.
Nowhere is this more evident than in Tokyo
These office workers are everywhere in Tokyo. They all wear black suits and dark ties with a white shirt, and carry some sort of briefcase but no imagination. They must have been the inspiration for the central characters of the “Men in Black” Movie, and in their own way they are just as frightening.
Their only life is their work. They are so ubiquitous that there is even a term for them. They are known as the “salary men”. Like all Japanese they are over achievers and dedicated workers and they identify totally with their company. When they introduce themselves, they say their company name first, then their surname and then their first name. They work long hours, unable to leave their office until their boss leaves. Then they must go to the bar with their boss and stay there drinking the night away until either the boss leaves or the last subway train does. There are no rules written saying this is how their life must be, but none of it is optional. It is their culture, and their culture is everything. The late night trains are filled with exhausted and inebriated salary men and sights like this are not uncommon
The next morning they have to be at work before their boss.
We are in Tokyo for two days and travel by subway the entire time. In any other country we would notice how every subway rider is on their cell phone. In Tokyo every rider is asleep, no matter the time of day. They are simply exhausted
The population of Japan is falling and no one really knows why. But it seems obvious. They are just too tired to have sex. And too busy to have children. It is a serious problem. 33% of the population is over 60 years old and that figure is going to get higher
We hardly ever see children in Japan. Not because there aren’t any. There are. But because they are the children of the salary men growing up with that same work ethic installed into their young and formative psyche. Their day does not end after school. Over half of them return home, do their homework and then go to night school. Work and their future career is everything to them and to their family and to get the top jobs in the top companies they must get into the best schools. It doesn’t matter how smart they are, if they don’t go to the best schools they won’t get the best jobs.
And in Japan failure is not acceptable.
All of which leads to a very sad statistic. The rate of suicide in Japan is the highest in the world. 30,000 Japanese commit suicide every year, that is a shocking 90 people a day. But the Japanese don’t see that as a bad thing. Suicide is still seen as an honorable way of dealing with failure, just as it was in the days of the Samurai.
And if that doesn’t make you depressed, how about this. There is no word in the Japanese language for fun.
They are indeed a very different race from the rest of the world. But don’t let that stop you from going there. Despite what I have said about the people and will say in my next blog, they are charming and friendly hosts and their country is truly beautiful. It is their different culture that makes it all so interesting. We are loving it and plan to return for a longer stay.
Tokyo has to be one of the most vibrant cities in the world. When the sun goes down every light bulb in Tokyo is suddenly switched on.
It’s a dazzling display of opulence and the power of nuclear generators. It makes Las Vegas look like a candle flickering in the desert. Both cities are all about consumerism. But while Las Vegas is about having fun at a cost, Tokyo is about eating, drinking and shopping at some considerable cost.
The Japanese are passionate about their food and it is no surprise that their fish market is one of the top tourist destinations. It is the largest fish market in the world selling an astonishing 2,800 tons of fish every day. The main event is the auction that starts at 3am
I would like to see it, but 3am? Come on! Fortunately I am spared from even thinking about such an hour as the ship does not dock until 8am. Business in the market continues after the auction but we have read that it is all over by 9am. For that reason we have hired a guide to get us to the market as quickly as possible. We specified that he must be waiting for us at 8am.
He is not.
He is late and he is white, both of which is as unwelcome as it is unexpected.
When we hired a Tokyo guide we expected him to be Japanese, but the owner of the company hasn’t been able to make it so has sent one of his “best” guides.
He doesn’t bother to apologise for being late, saying that there will be lots to see at the fish market well after 9am
He is wrong
His name is Eduard. He is 25, 6ft tall, desperately thin and French which explains both his lateness and his arrogance
He has been in Japan for two and a half years which hardly qualifies him to be a guide, and we soon discover that he is entirely dependent on his I-phone for directions and information. He got a job in Japan and arrived on a three year work permit. He lost his job (hard to imagine why!) but has 6 months left on his visa. He desperately wants to stay but is broke and as are soon to find out, very very hungry.
By the time we get to the market they are in the process of cleaning up and closing down. There is nothing much to see other than dozens of fork lift trucks moving all the boxes of sold merchandise
We find a couple of stalls still doing business and excitedly take a photo
but we want more.
Eduard seems surprised that there is so little to see, and then admits that he has never been to the fish market before. He has however been to the secondary market that rings the fish market where a myriad of stalls sell sashimi and sushi to hordes of hungry Japanese and tourists
Eduard starts drooling. He explains that he has not had any breakfast due to the extremely early hour he had to meet us! Really! We are clearly supposed to feel guilty. And then says that he is addicted to sushi and if we see any oysters he loves those too. He is anything but subtle, but we have no intention of feeding him. However he does know his sashimi, and directs us to the best stalls and explains about the different quality of fish, always pointing us in the direction of the best quality and of course the most expensive. We tell him that we are happy to wait while he has some breakfast, but that just produces a pout and a pair of sad looking eyes. I am sure he says “Mon Dieu” under his breath.
Finally urged on relentlessly by Eduard we buy an incredibly expensive tray of the very best tuna.
We buy one tray and it is for us. I graciously ask Eduard if he would like a piece. Before I even finish the sentence most of the tuna has disappeared .
He then says “Didn’t I tell you this is the very best tuna. Doesn’t it just melt in your mouth?”
“I’ll let you know when we get a chance to try it” I reply. But sarcasm has always been wasted on the French
Eduard is taking us round Tokyo by subway as it is the fastest way to get around this vast sprawling city. At the subway station he scans his pass but the gates refuse to open. He does a great act of looking surprised, but we now know what the problem is. He is broke. And he is still very hungry
It is 10.30. By noon he is asking us every five minutes if we are ready for lunch. In our emails with the tour operator we had discussed lunch and said we would not need a big lunch and would like to try a little local restaurant rather than one of the tourist places.
Eduard tells us that he has just the place for us. He tells us that he knows a small restaurant in an old 17th century wooden building that is absolutely charming,and he is correct:
The seventh generation owners offer a small menu that has remained unchanged for 150 years. It sounds perfect, and when Eduard tells us that it is always packed with locals and that we will probably have to wait in line we know we want to go there. We are seeing Eduard in a new light.
What he doesn’t tell us is that you have to sit cross legged on the floor, they only have six things on the menu, all of which are a variation on the same theme :
The restaurant is called Komakata Dozeu and the dish it is famous for is called Dozeu Nabe. It features a dozen small fish (dozeu) that we cook on a skillet over charcoal in a sake miso broth, adding copious amounts of scallions which are provided in a large wooden box.
The waitress suggests that two orders will be plenty for the three of us, but Eduard insists on three. He then proceeds to eat all of his and most of ours. It is delicious and quite different from any Japanese meal we have ever had, so we are happy, and for Tokyo it is not expensive. But it certainly isn’t cheap.
As the waitress approaches with the bill, Eduardo develops an urgent call of nature and disappears for a good five minutes. Once the bill has been paid, Eduard reappears and innocently thanks us for treating him to lunch. He then adds “I am so glad you wanted to come here. It is somewhere I have always wanted to go”
We decide we have had enough of Eduard. We have only been with him for four hours during which time we have fed him twice and helped him with his subway ticket, in exchange for which he has used is I-phone to show us round town.
We dump him and continue on our own. It is much more fun without him even if the subway is a little complicated…………………………