Tokyo Wanderings 2
You may notice that one of the pictures below appears to be a man with a cat on his shoulders. That’s exactly what it is. For some reason, the man was simply walking through Shibuya with his pet precariously perched on him. The cat, who I wouldn’t exactly call content but was certainly well-behaved, maintained balance as the man walked – with excellent posture for obvious reasons. There is a wealth of the strange and unexpected in Tokyo, especially in areas such as Harajuku and Shibuya, where vanity and a need to be noticed override any self-conscious tendencies (in some cases — the rest are wearing black suits). Not that I am calling the man with the cat vain – I think it is more likely he was just a little queer.
I have been wordlessly playing the Japanese Sitting Lottery recently. The rules are simple – as the train pulls into a station, I place a bet with myself as to whether or not a Japanese person will sit in the vacant space next to you. The real trick is to know your demographic and make educated guesses from there. For example:
Elderly – Unlikely, Young – more likely, Exhausted looking business man – odds on
Male – slight chance, especially the young
Female – less so, especially the ‘high-society’ snooty ones that come complete with the ubiquitous and tacky looking Louis Vuitton bag (also usually wearing beige and heels that cause them to walk like they have the clap). A subtly-dressed one can be a good bet, but still not as good odds as the men.
Man wearing a Japanese flag with a shaved head which is tattooed with the Japanese symbol for power, wearing a T-shirt with Jesus and George Bush crucified at the gates of hell – Real outside bet. (OK I have never seen this example)
Of course my odds are increased if there is no vacant seat next to a Japanese person, in which situation you should step back from the table and wait for the next round.
The amazing thing about this country – that you would struggle to comprehend in England (unless you are a member of the BNP) – is that you can, with a 95% or so accuracy, know if someone is foreign just by looking at the colour of their skin. It just adds a new dimension to the inclusion/exclusion of the others. It does, however, avoid almost all awkward misconceptions, like the process of pigeon-holing junk and important mail.
I do joke about these things for the reason that they don’t really bother me. My wife and I actually have a lot of fun observing this sort of behaviour, this ‘latent racism’, if I can even go as far as to call it that. The only real worry is that this submerged feeling could be drummed up with the right phrases and a few choice pictures, as it has swayed the opinions of apparently sensible thinkers all through history. The thing that is a novelty today can quite easily become a nuisance down the line. On a lighter note – thanks for all the extra room on the train Japan! (men aren’t too fond of pressing their legs together)
Talking of nationalism. I recently visited the residence of the former General Nogi, who was so patriotic and distraught after Emperor Meiji passed away that he committed suicide. This felt kind of apt after the Pope resigning. Another person who claims in some way to be divine. The death of Nogi is a pivotal scene in one of my favourite Japanese novels; Kokoro (heart) by Natsume Soseki.
BA vs. JAL
I recently had the chance to fly BA and JAL back-to-back, and I thought it would be a good time to provide a quick comparison of the two while my memory is fresh.
JAL – The service on this flight was great right from the outset. When I asked if they had any aisle seats left at check-in (one downside is that they block-out many of the seats for advance booking – although nowhere near as many as Delta, whose overall flight was pretty terrible) the lady made a few phone calls and let us sit at either side of an out of order seat. Despite her warning that the seats were narrow near the back, they were quite comfortable. The staff were very friendly and the flight set off only twenty or so minutes late (I am not exaggerating when I say that I have yet to take a flight that is ahead of/on-time – and I have taken a few). The food was great, beyond anything that I have had on a plane before. Another small point that I can’t really prove but seems conclusive to me is that the air was better on the JAL flight, as I came off the plane feeling fresh and light as opposed to BA where I always alight feeling bloated and headachey. The main detractor for this provider is that their entertainment is rather limited, the movies being few and the music being solely compilation CDs.
BA – Our exit row seats were still a little more cramped than the JAL ones. The flight was also delayed because of a technical error, which is fine – better safe than sorry – but they had already asked everyone to get up and queue. The staff were perfectly nice, but the meal was standard aeroplane fare, having no real flavour. The biggest fault of JAL is probably the biggest strength of BA, as the entertainment was excellent and I was able to chose from many movies old and new (including every James Bond released – I may be alone in this camp, but I really like the Timothy Dalton Bond). The music selection was also great.
I have to say, however, that I was pretty unsuccessful in my movie viewing, finding the new Spiderman (despite Garfield’s performance), Expendables 2 and Taken 2 to be utter tosh. Seven Psychopaths (slightly misleading title) is probably the only movie I will take anything away from.