Woke at 9am, and headed out into the warm sunshine for breakfast with Crystal. We walked to an area near Akasaka station, and popped into Tully’s for a delicious coffee on the balcony overlooking the square below. Skyscapers towered around, silver beacons of modernity, dwarfing the hunched old man selling the Big Issue, the suits rushing past him, and the ladies of leisure in their knee-high boots, hair dyed in hues of browns and oranges. It was a great place to have a coffee, the sun warming my back. I bought a Big Issue on my way back.
Met Alex and Junko back at the Mansion, then we headed out together and caught the subway from Akasaka to Omote Sando. This is a designer shoppers paradise. The wide tree lined boulevards, Hermes, Gucci, Armani, Louis Vuitton and Calvin Klein nestle together, in what has become the new Ginza. The men and women here were all dressed impeccably, leaving me feeling a little bit like a backpacker if I were to compare my fashion. The women, especially, were all dressed to the nines….Japanese women really know how to dress. A particular beauty walked past me, and an unshaven man jumped out from a doorway and began propositioning her. A policeman tried to stop him, but the unshaven man hurried ahead and brushed him off. He tried again with the same girl further ahead, and this time she stopped. He gave her his pitch, and before long was scribbling down her particulars. What was that all about? Junko informed me that this street was famous as a place model scouts go to find new talent, some for international brands, others for erotic modelling work. Tokyo women know this, and so dress up and walk up and down the street, with the intention of being propositioned. No wonder the girl had given her details to the shabby looking chap so easily- he was an agent, or a scout, she a wannabe model. The street is also famous as a place where nampa occurs. Nampa is a very Japanese phenomenon, whereby a man approaches every woman he sees and asks her out for coffee or even to a love hotel for sex. They get rejected countless times, but also have their fair share of success. I remember seeing them operate outside Hep 5 shopping mall in Osaka. They only have seconds to deliver their pitch, often at speed as they have to walk alongside the women who reject politely or give up and accept if they’re up for it. If that happened in England, the men would get slapped. Not so in Japan. Very interesting indeed. Here they were, walking up and down the street, funny, good looking young chaps with dyed blonde, shoulder length hair, sometimes styled high, glib-tongued, unemployed chancers.
From here we caught a bus to Shibuya, and walked from here to Harajuku, made even more famous than it already was by Gwen Stefani and her ‘Harajuku’ girls she tours the world with. Walking down the main pedestrianized street in Harajuku is like walking down the most insane catwalk in the world. When you watch a fashion show, you often see ridiculous outfits and hairstyles that would never see the light of day on the highstreet – unless that high street is Harajuku high street. I felt at times like I was walking through a manga comic strip, with little lolitas, little bo-peeps, people dressed up like their favourite manga or fairytale character scuttling around everywhere. Crystal, herself a cosplay enthusiast (or used to be) felt right at home, and she was busy taking photos of all the sulky-looking teenagers dressed to impress, astound, horrify and to fantasize over. After walking through possibly the most creative and independant fashion street in the world, we felt hungry and caught a train to Tsukiji.
Tsukiji is home to the famous fish market, and is a glimpse of the working-class, toiling Tokyo of old. The tourists were still milling around when we got there, though the fish auctions had long since finished. We wandered around, and came across a nice sushi restaurant, where a set sushi lunch cost 3000 Yen each. We went in, and had the freshest, most delicious sushi I’ve ever tasted. A platter of ebi, unagi, tamago, tuna, salmon and tuna belly, washed down with sweet, warm sake. Splendid!
After this, we had a walk to Higashi-Ginza, warmed by the sake and feeling slightly light-headed. From here we caught a bus to Ginza, the famous designer shopping street. It’s a huge street, and as this was Saturday, it was completely pedestrianized. We strolled down the famous boulevards, past the designer boutiques. There doesn’t seem to be a recession here. Japanese people are the richest in Asia. I doubt the famous fashion labels had seen a drop in business since the economic nightmare began.
The next stop on our amazing tour was Roppongi Hills, a huge city within a city, containing bars, clubs, shops, restaurants, apartments and huge shopping malls. We popped into Louis Vuitton, not because we could afford to buy anything, just to have a look. Louis Vuitton, I could see, is still as popular in Japan as ever. Any self-respecting Japanese lady needs a Louis Vuitton bag, and some salarywomen save up for years for that all important handbag to hang on a delicately crooked arm as they gracefully glide from shop to shop. After this we saw the abomination that is the ‘Spider’, a horrible charcoal grey behemoth that serves no aesthetic purpose whatsoever. It is the symbol of Roppongi Hills, and a symbol of the dangers of a city that takes its fashion too seriously. Modern Art does a city no favours.
After a quick white chocolate mocha at starbucks, we all headed to Shinjuku. It was kareoke time! We checked into a popular place after a pit-stop in Mr Donuts to satisfy Alex’s insatiable craving for it after his coffee. We got a nomehodai special, our last in Japan, and Alex and I again made full use if it. Everytime you wanted another beer, you had to call for one, and could only get one once you’d finished your last one. Cue Alex and I getting our beers, phoning for another one as soon as the attendant had brought them and left the room, and downing the beers just before he came back x about 20! We sang a few old favourites: Bohemiem Rhapsody, Shout, Ordinary World, Disco 2000….all out of key duets in the spirit of kareoke! Junko sang a few Japanese favourites, and Crystal some Chinese songs….all in all a good evening of kareoke had by all!
We left to go to an izikaya for some top quality nosh and more beer. Alex, who had downed all the unfinished drinks, including a strange blue cocktail, was feeling worse for wear. Crystal ordered a beer for herself in a rare attempt to drink alcohol, and we all had a good chat before catching a train back to Akasaka. We went to bed drunk but happy.
At 5:00 am we woke up. We had to be at the train station to catch the train to the airport. We got a taxi to Shinjuku station, and it was bustling. Everybody here was coming back from a night out, dressed in killer heels, and their best clubbing clothes. The smell of smoke and alcohol hung heavy in the air. This was how it used to be in Osaka too, heading back at 5,6 or 7am after a night out. We got the Narita Express to the airport. Before we got on, Alex tried to get himself a warm coffee, but he ended up pressing the cold button instead. Gutted. I did the same thing 3 times in Hokkaido. You want to buy another one, but can’t bring yourself to. I found it very amusing that he’d got a cold one. On a cold morning in Tokyo, that’s the last thing you need!
I fell asleep on the train. Alex and Junko got off at Terminal 2. They were going to Hong Kong for a day with Cathay Pacific to see Larry, Crystal and I were heading to Terminal 1 to catch the Thai Airways flight to Singapore via Bangkok. We bid farewell, though I’d be seeing Alex at work on Tuesday anyway. It had been a memorable trip. A refreshing change, the best for a long time. I left Japan with the sweetest of memories this time around. Crystal had fallen in love with Japan, I felt like I had got back in touch with an old friend. Superb.