Tokyo Drift

We flew from Tokyo to Paris, which took ages unsurprisingly.  Everyone knows Paris is beautiful.  It is.  Look at it.

We spent a truly wonderful day frolicking in the endless conveyor belt of architecture, geometric gardens and sunshine.

I took more lovely photos in one day than in ten days in Tokyo.  But Tokyo is beautiful too, it really is.  Not just the neon and the lanterns and the hordes of meticulously attired cosplaying selfie addicts.  No, it is a city that makes function beautiful.

Take the metro system for instance.  It’s confusing.  Even calling it the metro system is confusing as one of the 48 transit operators for the city is called Tokyo Metro.  That’s right, there are more than double the number of train operators in Tokyo than subway stations in Glasgow.  They have 158 lines in Tokyo.  Not stations.  Lines.  According to Wikipedia, on these lines are 2210 stations (recounted for additional operators).  Just think about that for a moment.  Paris has 303 stations.  Here are the two important maps you require to navigate the Tokyo Subterranean Labyrinth as it shall now be known:

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Map 1.

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Map 2.  Ridiculous. These maps go on top of each other.

Yet the system works embarrassingly well.  Embarrassing because Scotrail can’t appear to schedule one piddly little train to shunt its way from Stonehaven to Montrose on time.  Embarrassing because when a train in Tokyo is a few SECONDS late, the screens in the carriages apologise for this delay with an explanation for their disappointing tardiness.  Admittedly pretty low in detail, things like “Personal trauma,” and “Wind,” I still felt like warm treacle inside because they cared.  The system moves 40 million passengers a day.  That’s 14.6 billion a year.  That’s ten times more than the whole of the UK!  Yes, Tokyo is beautiful because it makes mind bending statistics look ordinary.  It takes the logistics of infrastructure to such a level, you feel like a 15th Century sailor grasping that the earth is round and then shrugging your shoulders and jumping on the next available galley to the New World.  Tokyo has been forced into extraordinary feats by necessity.  It’s not showing off, it’s just keeping the wheels turning.

It requires unprecedented levels of politeness and discipline too.  People appear to slide around on their own personal rails, gliding seamlessly between each other in great swelling oceans of non-contact.  Baggage handlers bow at departing buses.  We played a game to see who could count the highest number of bows between departing friends or business associates.  The winning total was 17!  Of course, this odd number meant that one person bowed once less than their contemporary, an unforgivable act of barbarity!  Shame on them!  When I lived in Shanghai I basically had to become an asshole to get by.  The queue for the train was like that harrowing Planet Earth episode where all the wildebeest get massacred by crocodiles in the river.  In Tokyo, it really did feel like clockwork.  It was regimented chaos.

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As a visitor it was a joy to behold but also as a visitor, I stood out like a particularly clumsy, sore thumb.  Our pal Akiko, who put us up for the first three nights in her parents’ lovely house, took us to a traditional restaurant one night.  Upon entry, we placed our shoes in lockers and the waitress shuffled forward in her beautiful kimono to instruct us on our table location.  Sidling round to hear her better I missed the door step and immediately fell over, my body sprawling across the cobbles as my head clattered against the back of the door.  Everyone turned to see the source of the commotion, with just a dull-eyed foreigner on his arse to greet them, his backpack still on like a dying turtle, legs prone in the air like hairy antennae.  The waitress just about managed to suppress a laugh (manners kicking in again see?) and we were led to our table.  I doubt any of them in there had ever fallen over in their life.

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Cat Empire

Konichiwa from Tokyo!

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Just got home after being smoked out of a yakitori restaurant near Ueno in north Tokyo, (well north of central Tokyo, north Tokyo is about 60 km further up) our lungs ruptured, eyes stinging but bellies full, oh and of course wallets completely empty.  The place was tiny as is de rigeur for all restaurants here, with lanterns adorning the entrance and booths marginally larger than bird boxes for the customers.  There was the poor guy working the grill behind the glass divide, plumes of smoke engulfing his poor sweaty face as he turned various parts of chicken.  There was the waiter who wore a ninja headband and said “Hai!” a lot, which means ‘yes’ but more forcefully.  And there was the really drunk old boy in the corner who tried to tell us how much he liked the Rolling Stones.  He made his front teeth move with his tongue and said he was just like Mick Jagger.  Anyway, it was another fantastic eating experience here in Tokyo, marked confidently high between the X axis of ‘Delicious’ and Y axis of ‘Weird.’  Sometimes, the mark deviates slightly, none more so than our visit to a Cat Café in Shibuya, one of the more hectic areas of the city.

First up, for those who haven’t got round to going, a cat café is a café with cats in it.

Second up, this one had loads of rules, which we were handed in laminated A4 sheets upon arrival by a stern looking old woman from behind a counter.  Things like, ‘don’t touch any cats with collars,’ and ‘roll up your trouser legs if they are too long.’   There were diagrams of how to pick up cats but then strict instructions on not picking them up unless they wanted to.  As we all know, no cat wants to be picked up ever.

We ordered our coffees, which had porcelain lids on top, I guess in case the cats fancied a dip, and took a seat.  The place resembled a crèche but populated by awkward adults and even more awkward cats.

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The cats wondered around aimlessly, their dead eyes reminiscent of washed out strippers avoiding contact with customers that only wanted a touch.*

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The place was deadly silent, save for the occasional bell of a cat toy rolling like tumbleweed across the pink carpet.  Then someone ordered a cup of cat food and the place went batshit crazy.  It was like Jurassic Park.  Cats started fighting and leaping on people.  Catriona tried to get a photo of this and sat on a cushioned box in the centre of the room.  The old lady who had remained mute up to this point, came bounding of her booth like the wifey in Tom and Jerry, yelling a stream of Japanese expletives and muddled English at her.  Apparently, the cushioned box was not for humans.  The cats continued to kill each other.

Soon enough our 30 minutes were up and we stumbled out into the light.  Turns out the woman who ran the Cat Café was legitimately a crazy old cat lady and we’d just paid her a lot of money to keep her animals hostage in a pink padded prison.  I’ve heard they’ve opened a similar venture in Edinburgh, so this sort of thing is either becoming normal or we’re all getting weirder.  Guess there’s a graph for that sort of thing. Meow.

* Joke/Observation initially made by Catriona Elizabeth Brennan Rist at 3.30PM on 30.04.2016