Hiroshima, Japan

Hiroshima

From fun to sombre. I’m not even going to pretend I was here for the city. I couldn’t not come here. It’s always stuck in my head after A-Level History. Yes i’m a geek.

Hiroshima is infamous for one thing; The dropping of the first nuclear bomb on 6th August 1945. I spent an entire day in the Memorial Peace Park which is built around the epicentre of the blast. The dome in the picture below (*or it will be when I get my laptop working again…) still stands as the impact was centered directly above it. Everything else was flattened to 3k radius. Apparently 30 mins after the impact black rain started to fall across the city. I find this so eerie a fact.  The two really poignant touches to the Peace Park are a cenotaph for the A bomb victims in the centre of the gardens. It holds a flame which the city have pledged will only be extinguished when the world’s last nuclear weapon is destroyed. Pretty powerful stuff. The other is the Children’s Peace Monument – which is obviously tear jerking enough before you even hear this next bit. Sadako Sesaki was aged 6 at the blast. Like many others she became ill with Leukaemia 6 years later. When in hospital she started to fold origami paper cranes as a symbol of hope, but died a few months later. Her classmates all campaigned to finish her goal of folding 1000 paper cranes, which triggered a Nationwide movement across Japan, resulting in thousands of coloured paper birds at the foot of this monument.

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Akihabara, Tokyo, Japan

If yesterday was a Saturday the life of a Japanese Girl,  Sunday was one for the boys. Akihabara is dubbed electronic city, but I didn’t bother with all that boy gadget nonsense. I came to check out Don Quyote; 7 floors of migraine-inducing arcade games, with the odd sex shop thrown in. And no, you wouldn’t think amongst all the kids toys and slot machines was the most well placed location for it, but believe me it gets weirder.

First – coninsidence weird. A few years ago in a land called work, I was in Cannes at a party thing – sorry a ‘networking event’. The headline VIP guests were some annoying 48 piece girlband/dance troop that no one had ever heard of, lip syncing like Aqua on acid to pop songs, much to everyone’s bumusment. Well, they are only fricking huge in Japan! Like kind of a massive deal. AKB48 (that’s their name.) Remember it case they turn up on next years X factor. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Second – is just plain weird weird. I already mentioned the maid costumes and the maid cafes, but Akihabara is famous for them. A place called @home in particular. I accidentally walked past on my way down an escalator. No really. And nearly tripped open jawed at the site of some 16-year-old girl in full little red riding get up, serving lunch whilst entertaining full-grown men in business suits with wolf hand puppet. This was at 11am on a Sunday. I’d really like to think this was in some way Halloween related (it’s the 31st) but I suspect it’s all year round.

Shibuya & Harajuki, Tokyo, Japan

“Harajuku girls, you got the wicked style…” Yes, not just those little perfumes or lyrics off of Gwen Stefani, but a real life place too…

Is it right that i’m nearly 29 and have absolute raging fashion envy of every 14 year old girl in this city. Firstly the hair: I’m walking around with wild shakira curls quite possibly avec the remains of some Thai beach left in from last week. Everyone else here has beautiful sleek shiny STRAIGHT locks. Second. The clothes. Chunky knits, knee high socks and wedges, beenies, blouses, c ute vintage dresses. Bitches. I found 5 floors of heaven in a place called Shibuya 109, but had to make myself leave. I went outside to play in the road. Quite literally, at Shibuya crossing – the Times Square of Tokyo, where 4 junctions meet around a grid. 45,000 people people cross every 30 mins, and the busiest Starbucks in the world sits overlooking it.

*When googling the above fact I only went and hit upon this – love it.

One of the most well-known stories concerning Shibuya is the story of Hachikō, a dog who waited on his late master at Shibuya Station every day from 1923 to 1935, eventually becoming a national celebrity for his loyalty. A statue of Hachikō was built adjacent to the station, and the surrounding Hachikō Square is now the most popular meeting point in the area.
– Wikitravel

The fashion got progressively weirder as headed up to Takeshita Dori (a neon cartoon like shopping street that felt like a being inside a dream with lots of Haribo.) Goths – fair enough (although not really), you can find them in Frenchgate centre/Corn Exchange. But this is on another league. Teenage girls dressed as French maids (what is with that fetish. Stop it!) School Uniforms a la Britney Spears (stop that too!) My faves were two girls in bright yellow Pokemon playsuits. No reason.  The whole things made Lady Ga Ga look like she plays it safe.  The girls all seem to congregate around these photobooth arcades that from what I can gather make you look pretty. They are called ‘Miss Bambi’ and transport you to a backdrop of a world a bit like that Nintendo advert for Animal Crossing. I have absolutely no idea whether Tokyo all the wrongest thing I have ever seen or all very innocent. Apparently it’s ‘an outlet’ for Japan’s youth, and everyone goes home to the suburbs and transforms on the train back from their weekend alter egos. Intriguing.

Asakusa, Tokyo, Japan

Japan…. All I really have to go on is Lost in Translation and The Fast & The Furious Tokyo Drift. Oh and Memoirs of a Geisha, but i’m guessing it’s changed somewhat in the last 60 years. However  for as long as I can remember it’s always been high on my all time visit list.

First stop Tokyo. Even the map of Tokyo scares me. The sheer size of it is incredible – Population: 12.5 million, Size: 1359(ish) square miles.

The other thing that scares me are the prices:

(You probably won’t flinch at this, but all economists can tell you coming from Thai Baht to Japanese Yen wasn’t the brightest ideas for my bank balance)

(And yes, these are not the most essential of items, but they did outrage me the most)

A Big Mac Meal: 650y (£5ish)
An Apple: 180y (£1.50)
6 Slices of bread in Seven Eleven: 199y (£1.65)
Postcard & Stamp: 350y (£3)
My Capsule Hotel: 1500y (£14)

So the Capsule Hotel. Had to be done didn’t it. I was lucky to find one as they normally only let men stay in them, and are normally reserved for when you miss they last train at midnight after too much sake and karaoke.

Rather than being inside an MRI scan or a shoe box, it’s actually disappointingly spacious. I have a mini TV and everything. Maybe i’ve been on too many long distance trains of late but it’s exactly like the little 2nd class births you overnight in. Just without the rocking motion.  That said, I did spend the previous night on a bench in Haneda Airport Arrivals Hall (it was midnight/ I couldn’t be bothered and taxi prices were out of the question). Although it turned out to be the best 9h i’ve ever had. They were so friendly they almost rolled me out a futon, and even played dreamy lullaby type music all night. Free wifi too. I swear it was nicer than most hostels.

It matters not that I cannot afford food, clothes, going out etc. The fun is to be had just walking around gawping at oddities. Here is what blew my mind today:

  • They have the following restaurants: Ninja restaurant (served by Ninja’s) Cat restaurant (where you sit and play with cats – not eat them, just to clarify), Maid restaurant (served by made up dolly girls in French maid outfits.) According to Justin Lee Collins and the Japan special he did they also have a Monkey restaurant (where the waiters are monkeys) but that’s in a far out town North of Tokyo.
  • What else. Magazines and books that all have the spine on the right. I honestly stood in awe of this for 5 mins.
  • Space age heated toilet seats, and a button that imitates the flushing sound but doesn’t actually flush. Why would you want/need this?!

My capsule take off/check in was at 3pm, so I spent a few hours wandering around Asakusa in the sunshine. It’s perfect Autumn weather that I haven’t felt since Santiago Chile, and is gorgeous.  You can pretty much pick any one spot (i.e the benches in the gardens outside of Sensoji Temple) and watch this parallel world go by.  I wish i’d made a list of all of the curious stuff I saw. Most striking though, and the stats back me up here (Japan has an aging population, disproportionate to the annual birth rate. And not related, but interesting –  a 99% literacy rate!) Anyway it was the number of, shall we say, older people around. The lady in my capsule hotel was about 200 years old, and the absolute sweetest. Despite her no English/My no Japanese apart from”Arigato?” (Thank you) she managed to bring me endless cups of lemon tea and even a sausage roll for no apparent reason.  (The place is a bit of a Scooby Doo hotel, which technically makes her the creepy old cartaker) but I loved her none the less.

I don’t think I mentioned it at the time, but it reminded me of something that happened at the Bolivia/Peru Copacabana border saga. Amoungst all of our winging and hysteria at having to walk miles through the protests between those random villages, one Japanese girl, despite being tiny and carrying her own backpack, stopped to carry the stuff of an older Korean man. Us brats were all baffled by this but she explained it as a kind of “respect your elders” thing, which everyone Toyko seems to live by.

An.an.tas.in : The Anantasin is the name of a shipwreck just of the coast of the Sensi Parasise, Mae Haad Bay, Koh Tao, Thailand. It’s one of my many favorite places.

Lit.tle: Just because it’s cute.

Blasts From The Past…

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