Trip to Tokyo (Pt. 1)

I woke up on Friday to another of Japan’s ubiquitous bank holidays, elated initially because I didn’t have to go to work, then simply annoyed because it was 7:30am and I was completely unable to get back to sleep. Gone are the days when, at university, I could quite happily sleep in until 1pm; now I’m woken up by screaming, either from an alarm clock placed strategically at the other side of the flat or from my own bladder performing its daily protest like a wisened Green Party supporter who took a bit too much LSD back in the day and gets a bit more militant with every inch of new beard growth. I saw the doctor about it once:

“Don’t drink anything after 6pm,” she said.

Oh thanks very much, doc. Sage advice there. I’ll just go half the bloody day with no fluids shall I? Just so I don’t have to get up early for a piss? Great idea. I almost wanted her to say I had diabetes just so I didn’t have to walk around with the knowledge that I’m a 27 year old bloke who can’t sleep in because his organs are already becoming decrepit. Almost.

Anyway, fortunately for you lot this blog isn’t all about the condition of my body’s various functions but rather, about Tokyo and my little trip there this weekend. I decided that same Friday that I should get off my arse and do something. Since most of my friends are off on their own little holidays in Okinawa, Bali, Osaka and the like, that meant going somewhere on my own; somewhere I was likely to meet other people to chat to and have a beer with, as well as doing a bit of sightseeing and some shopping. I hadn’t been to Tokyo since September so I simply thought why not and seized the opportunity, booking a bed at the Khaosan Kabuki hostel in Asakusa and jumping on the Shinkansen northwards.

Instantly noticeable upon arrival was the absence of large numbers of gaijin (foreigners) that were present the last time I was here. From Tokyo Central to Asakusa I must have seen only 3 or 4 at most, and when I arrived at the hostel itself I was told that I was the only guest in my dorm room. Sad in some ways, total RESULT in others! My own room with en-suite bathroom for 2500 yen? Why, I don’t mind if I do, thank you very much. The hostel is great. If you ever find yourself Tokyo-bound then, assuming you don’t want to be closer to the night-life in Shibuya et al., this place fits the deal nicely. It’s clean, it’s new, and it has comfy beds, wonderful staff, and a great location in a beautiful district.

It was about 7:30 by the time I got there and I decided to stay in the near vicinity for the evening with the intention of doing some serious pavement-pounding on Saturday. I asked one of the staff, Miwa, where I could get some ramen and a beer and she duly obliged, marking them out on a map and supplying me with a free sake voucher for the Khaosan bar across the river. Before I waltzed out the door we had a little chat about the tourist shortage. Some people might say it’s expected given the earthquake, aftershocks, tsunami and nuclear power plant dramas of the last two months. Expected perhaps, but necessary? I don’t think so; people need to get a grip. Do they not think that if Tokyo’s background/water radiation had reached dangerous levels then perhaps the millions of inhabitants that live there wouldn’t be subjecting themselves to it quite so willingly; that Japan could probably do with the money those tourists would normally be feeding into the economy after such an expensive disaster? If not the radiation, then what is causing people to cancel their reservations and stay at home? If they’re scared about earthquakes they have no more to worry about than they did before the big one; indeed, if we’re talking probabilities then you would have to be extraordinarily unlucky to come here and be killed as a direct result of an earthquake/tsunami a month after one has already killed 10,000 people. How often does that happen? Frankly you’re more likely to die falling out of bed in the morning.

Who can blame anyone for being scared after the media onslaught that followed in the weeks after the event though. Unfortunately, news corporations have a penchant for blowing things out of proportion and people, governments and businesses will almost always suffer as a result; that’s just the way it goes. I can tell you right now though that Tokyo is perfectly safe. If you’ve always wanted to go then there has never been a better time; flights are cheap, it’s far from overcrowded and the weather is beautiful. The extra arm I grew while I was there is proving to come in rather handy now too.

I went to get some ramen and then popped down to the bar for a beer where I met a whole bunch of lovely people, some travelling, some on a weekend break like me, and a couple of locals. Suddenly I wished I was travelling properly again, preferably for months at a time in multiple countries. There really isn’t anything quite like rocking up to a new city in a different culture, seeing all the sights and befriending a load of like-minded people over a drink or two. Not something I’d want to do forever, mind, but I do miss it. Eventually, after plenty of anecdotes and a couple of massive “samurai” beers I made my exit and walked back to the hostel to bed down for the night.

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