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Archive for January, 2010|Monthly archive page

finding nemo

In Uncategorized on January 31, 2010 at 2:07 pm

So after the trauma of getting there, here’s what I thought about Osaka aquarium….

It’s brilliant, I feel like a small child in it’s presence wanting to press my face up close to the glass and stare in wonder at the specimens contained within. Which is what I do, for what seems like the longest time.

To begin with, Osaka aquarium is huge, you go up an escalator and then spend the rest of your time descending, through the various levels of aquatic life, walking through seperate aquariums which hold, fishy life from all over, furry, scaled, blubberfied.

It is like being in Finding Nemo, and I find myself captivated by the shimmering blue light which beams out at you and covers you up. Wrapped up in it’s warm embrace. I could happily stay here and watch the two whale sharks roam around their tank, I suppose it would be too much to ask to get a huge fish tank as a present, I have no idea what they cost but I’d love one, the huge fish tank, rather than a whale shark, even I know it’d be too big to fit in my house. What would it be like to watch the soothing swirls of fish before you went to bed.

I have seen some huge fish here. I mean huge fish, fish as big as you or I, fish so big they make a mockery of the fish I thought I knew. The shoals of fish following the whale shark as it barely moves it’s tail to get from one side of its tank to the other. And there were dolphins, eternally happy, vivacious dolphins. Dolphins that poked their heads out of water, that tried to drink falling water, that leapt out of the water to head a red ball suspended over the tank. And there were otters, small ones and bigger sea going ones, all with their cute faces and humanlike paws.

The shrill ahhh’s and shrieks of the Japanese girls letting you know that they are too adorable for words. Has ever a language been more suited to expressions of childlike wordless joy than japanese. Will try and do some scuba diving when I’m in Australia or maybe when I go to Thailand,  this experience makes me want to go and be in their habitat rather than this man made one. What is it? 70% of the earths surface is water and when seeing this kind of massive diversity you wonder why we as a species ever left it. What was so powerful about the draw of land, that made those ancient evolutionary ancestors drag themselves onto the muddy banks of anywhere, and try to survive out of the water.

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serenity

In japan, travelling on January 30, 2010 at 1:58 pm

The Japanese do serene very well, I haven’t been to too many shrines or temples or gardens, as you can get overloaded with the serenity, and become inured to the beauty and distinctiveness of each place as there is a tendency for them all to blend into one. Here are my impressions of the ones I’ve been to.

Himeji Castle is beautiful, peaceful, but cold, windy at the top, walking through with your shoes in a plastic bag, you wonder how did they stay warm in such a place during the winter, no sign of fireplaces, the whole place is made out of wood, so fear of fire was immense.  What was it hot coals in braziers?

The wind whistling whistling through the trees, and the leaves, the only sound you can hear, apart from the caw caw of the crows, flying and landing everywhere, what is it with Japanese castles and crows.? I thought back in august last year that I didn’t want to be a tourist endlessly taking photo’s when I went travelling, but I have become what I vowed not to, but how can you not? There is so much to see, and so much to remember, but the experience of it stays embedded, the feelings, the impressions, the photo’s are to show the rest of you what I’ve seen, but also to keep my eye in, to see if I can show a different version of what has been seen so many times before, to see if the way I look at things actually different or if its still just a tourists eyes view.

Ko koen is a traditional Japanese garden just along from Himeji, lovely and peaceful, and it makes me want “nishikigoi” like no man’s business, the colours, red, orange, white, a blue which is like purple.

I want to turn my balcony into a homage to eastern gardens, complete with water features, gravel underfoot and bamboo. Maybe I should sell the flat and just by some land and create a japanese garden like these ones, Ko Koen has like 12 or 13 different gardens. Hear the wind through the trees/leaves, whispering away, beneath the high pitched shrieks of little birds, a cross between the squeal of bats and the baby killing sound that foxes make when breeding, but the peace and quiet, the contentment, is all encompassing, to listen to the water flowing, burbling, roaring, trickling,  and the crunch of gravel under your feet and others, announcing your arrival but acting as a counterpoint to the other sounds that emerge. To sit quietly in the wooden buildings set in the gardens just contemplating….

nothing really. Just calm, and at peace and the tiniest bit cold, but it doesn’t matter because the garden soothes you, rounds off the edges of the day you’ve had, a delight to the senses. and I still want Koi. And where else but a beautiful Japanese garden would be able to meet a couple of Ninja’s and I just don’t know what to say or do, apart from ask to take their photographs

Fushimi inari, is a shrine to Inari, the Shinto god of rice, whose messengers are foxes are thought to be their messengers. Fushimi Inari is known for the Torii gates which are orange/red and black and usually line the approach and entrance to a shrine, but which at Fushimi Inari, so many have been offered that they line myriad walks in the woods behind the main shrine. Fushimi, like Himeji, and Kinkaku-ji and Meiji Jingu, are lessons in how to create peaceful spaces in the middle of urban insanity, they are so close to the sprawl, but its like you step through a curtain and the city falls away especially at Fushimi as the incense hangs heavy in the air, which is filled with the loud guttural calls of crows, the darkening sky full of flying birds, startled into motion, and the quickly fading light blocked out by the huge swathes of Titan tall bamboo.

The red Torii gates which arc overhead seem to go on forever covering a path which takes you up into the woods, passing shrines along the way, statues of foxes, with red sashes/scarves draped over their necks. As the sun sets the air is swollen with birdsong, as they wheel overhead preparing to roost for the night. Different birds, different calls, guttural, high pitched, moaning, squawking, squealing a plethora of sounds. Every so often a jogger runs past, breath heavy, using this holy place to tune their bodies. Faces focused on the steps ahead, as night falls lights switch on and illuminate the line of red columns, picking out the carved kanji in their curved surface, is every column dedicated to someone loved, victory, praying for something tangible or unknowable. The columns wind their way into the woods, seemingly forever. Even as I tire and turn to retrace my steps down a path which suddenly seems so different from the one I’ve walked up only hours before.

lost in osaka

In japan, travelling on January 29, 2010 at 3:25 am

spent most of my first full day lost in osaka. I was trying to find the aquarium, I had a hankering to commune with nemo and his friends. I’d left my map behind in tokyo, so was using a crappy tourist, one, which ripped whenever you pulled it out of your pocket, unfolded it, refolded it or used it in any of the ways it is supposed to be used. And to add insult to ripped injury it didn’t cover the area where the aquarium was supposed to be, so in fact it was pretty much useless, but it was the only map I had so it had to be used.

So I find a route, head out on the bike and take my first proper spin through Osaka. And immediately can’t find the bridge which I have to go over to get from Shin Osaka, where I’m staying which is on the other side of the river from Osaka proper. I roll slowly this way and that way, checking on the position of the main train line, on my still shitty map, to see if I can figure out where the bridge would be in relation to it. But no joy, I just plump on a direction, follow traffic, go up a flyover which looks promising but just dumps me back out to where I was. Finally, finally, find the bridge, roll over it and spin down into Osaka proper, long wide roads, bridges galore, the wind rubs my face and I breathe deep. I’m on my way.

I’ve made the decision to pop into a fixed track bike shop which is along the way first, and I spend the next twenty mins, rolling around the block where it is supposed to be situated, fucked if I can find it. The whole address system in Japan is bollocked lots of the minor roads don’t have names or numbers, and so most places have a map on the back of their business cards, which is fine when your a native, but not the easiest system when your a tourist. I suppose thinking pictorially, is easier when your writing system is based on characters rather than words, and why name all the roads, when you can just show someone where it is.  But, when shops are in buildings on the 2f or 3f, and you have to look for signs and shit, it meant I spent far too long, aimlessly roaming around trying to find the bike shop. and when I did find it, it wasn’t all that anyway. Lots of off the pegs, bright colours, and not able to hold a candle to the boutiques and old school bike places I’d found in tokyo. (On a side note, whoever writes for the free Kansai tourist mag, that I snagged at the tourist office in Shin Osaka, knows fuck all about fixed bikes as the two of the three bike shops they mentioned and I actually saw were Rahhhhbish! I found better bike shops wandering around in Osaka and Kyoto than they did. and their paid for it, damn lazy journalists).

So after the disappointment of the bike shop, its full steam ahead for the aquarium, they have whale sharks and I’m so up for seeing them. I check the map, orientate myself in relation to the bridges I’ve just crossed, ride over a big junction, looking for the road number, find it, zero in on it, and follow it away and down towards the sea. Bike shops line the way, loads of them, all selling shoppers, and bikes with baskets, and occasionally the odd road bike. I’m amazed by how many people are riding bikes, amazed by how many bike shops there are, and I’m on a straight straight staight road, which leads me to a bridge and what looks surprisingly like the industrial part of town.

This feels so wrong. Lorries rumble past, the bridge I’m standing on peering at my map overlooks, factories and cranes and buildings with their pipes on the outside and not in a good Lloyds building kind of way. I’m pretty sure the tourist attraction that is the Osaka Aquarium won’t be in the brown, dirty part of town. I double check the map, but I’m off the edge of it, I’m sure I’ve come the right way, I’m not wrong am I? I decide to forge on, slowly riding down this, the only road, which curls round to the right, as the buildings become ever more industrial and factory like. There is no escaping the fact that I’ve taken the wrong road, and the only way to get out of this is to turn around and ride back the way I came.

Check my watch and hope the aquarium will still be open when I can find my way to it. I’m not going to bail on the whale sharks because of a little navigation malfunction. I ride to the end of the road, just on the odd chance I’m wrong, but it is in fact, definitely the end of the road, because I come to a river and there is no bridge, and no other way of crossing. Turn around and head back, along this road enclosed with factories and pipework, and the smell of metallic corruption in my nostrils. To my right is a spiral of a road, which cars and trucks emerge from, it leads to a bridge. a bridge which is so high it makes my neck hurt to look up at it. I’m not going to cross it, I know if it does provide a shortcut to my intended destination that I wouldn’t know it if I got there, as the map doesn’t even show where I am. But I can’t pass the chance up to ride upwards in a circle, a lazy circle of death up into the sky. The cars and trucks that flow inside me, pull me up into the ether, and I stomp on the pedals to keep up. The slope isn’t that steep, its constant and all I’ve got to do is maintain a rhythm, and I’m damned if I’m going to get off, but magpie like I see something I want to take a shot of, so I slow, step off the pedals and pull out the camera.

When I get to the top, I can’t see the other side as the curve of the bridge hides it, humping upward, a whale breaching the surface. I push the bike along, hand on the saddle, cleats clicking beneath me, buffeted by the wind. And take a photo from the tippity top. The photo doesn’t do the view justice, blue skies, white clouds, and once you look past the industrial mess directly underneath, the city of Osaka is laid out below. The only disturbance is the regular passing of the trucks and cars which use this skyhigh shortcut.

I freewheel down, covering the front brake, and letting my weight just shoot me down, wind in my non existent hair, eyes tearing slightly, right foot up, leant into the turn. I shoot out the bottom and go back the way I came, leaving the industrial units behind me.

As is always the case, the ride back down the road I rode down incorrectly, is quicker than heading out. I get back to where I think I made the wrong turn and check my torn and creased map, find the right road and take it. I’m hoping I’m heading in the correct direction, it feels pretty similar to the road I’ve just come down, maybe a bit more neon, the shops are a bit more upmarket, more restaurants, and fast food outlets. I’m checking the map at every other big junction and I feel confident, well more confident that I’m going to be alright, and I won’t miss the whale sharks.

Over a hump, a flyover, a park and a gymnasium! to my right and I can see the metro and the road heading down into an underpass, I’m almost there and I know the aquarium is on my right. But I miss the turning as I head up an incline and end up at the sea, a railing stopping me from getting wet, and a group of old japanese men fishing.

eat hearty

In eat drink man woman, japan on January 27, 2010 at 4:17 pm

I was going to keep an Araki like journal of my eating habits and take a photo of everything I ate, but I’ve been remiss lately, as when the food arrives I’m hungry and just head straight in rather than recording the moment for posterity, so there aren’t as many photo’s of food as I would like, or the people serving me the food for that matter. You know what its like you get a new diary for the new year, and you get all eager about making sure your organised and you use it and use it and use it, for the first four or five months and then for some reason you stop using it, or you use it less, until your not using it at all. Well thats what my vow to be Araki like, is like, except I stopped taking photo’s after the first week or so. But I promise to do better, really, cross my heart.
So the food in Japan’s been really good, even the takeout stuff that you get in family mart, especially loving the corner bento box places that do rice, some sort of tempura or curry and gyoza, with lots of different variations, not that expensive but tasty tasty.

One of the things I love is the window displays, where you get the plastic food on show. I love, love, love that. They are fucking amazing, I really want to be able to drag the staff out the front of the eaterie and show them what I want by pointing at the plastic versions of their food. “want that ONE!”
Had some really good sushi here as well, though you wouldn’t expect anything less would you, had some in a place round the corner from Yakitori Alley which is close to Ginza, a row of food places, designed to feed and water the salarymen and women who pile through on their way to get a train back to their homes. It was lovely, nice interior, great fresh sushi, got a “we don’t speak english from the chef”, but as is always the case, his english was better than my japanese, and then a startled young girl was dragged from upstairs to speak to me, even though her english seemed to be worse than the chefs, and I was working from the see image, point, “want that one” school of ordering. I got the sushi selection and some yakitori. It is amazing what they can cook over here, no piece of the bird is wasted.

I also had some good sushi in Osaka, in a place by Juso station, which was pointed out by a forumenger, Pete whose teaching english over here and is staying out in Kobe. He said they had an english menu, which when I went in they couldn’t find, but they were friendly enough, and the whole point at food picture on the menu worked a treat, and the sushi was excellent, was trying to try different sushi’s from what I would normally go for, and I had a vague idea of what each one was, it was just try and find the ones which weren’t squid or octopus. Almost like Sushi roulette.

and last but definitely not least went to a noodle place in Shibuya, I was taken there by a friends brother whose been in Tokyo for the last couple of years. Down some stairs to a basement kitchen. Machine at the front where you push buttons for the food that you want, which is basically noodles, and meat, take the tickets, wait for a seat to become available, which you can see on a board up on the wall, kanji light up as a seat is vacated, and walk through to a long run of one person booths, which face onto a curtained area, where the staff work and walk along behind. You can’t see them, they serve you through the curtain, and give you a little sheet to decide how you want the noodles, special sauce, deeper flavour, extra garlic, and then they bring it to you, sweep it through the curtain and you have some of the tastiest ramen you can eat. If you want you can order extra noodles as well.

Food is fuel, but its better when the fuel actually tastes good.

OOOOOsakakakah!

In bike, japan, travelling on January 25, 2010 at 5:08 pm

Lots of bikes in Osaka, more than in Tokyo? I don’t know, but every other shop is a bike shop, even if they are selling shoppers and long wheelbase cruisers. Everyone rides here, and there are more dispensations for cyclists, proper cycle lanes on the pavement and loads of bikes locked up on every corner, so many that you think its just another bike shop, until you get closer and see that they are just locked there, no shop in sight.

Found out that Osaka, the industrial heart of Japan? is home to Shimano, Sugino, Sakae, the town of Sakai is also where  a very large bicycle museum is located, didn’t get the chance to go, was on a wild goose chase of a frame hunt and it closed before I could get to it.

Also discovered that though I will use the pavements and the cycle paths (when in Rome and all that) I want to be on the road, I miss the thrill of dicing with traffic, of weaving in and out, of being one with the mass of regimented movement. Riding the pavement and bike paths isn’t the same, it feels like cheating and its not really for me. It feels too pedestrian, too restrictive, even though with the long straight roads you get here, you can to a certain extent keep the speed up, and not be as stop start as you would be if your riding the kerb in london.

Osaka, city of a hundred bridges, so many of them, so many rivers, and canals and tributaries that flow in, through and out of the city. I’ve got to cross a big one to even get into the center of town. But there’s something joyous about riding over bridges, reminds me in the tiniest way of london, especially on the roll back, even though I get lost like a lost thing in a lost world, as I try to navigate the railway tracks, underpasses and neon lit roads, which all look the same, because the map I bought for this city I’ve left in Tokyo and I’ve got to live with a shitty tourist one, that doesn’t show enough detail, doesn’t show enough of the city, and is prone to ripping every time you fold it and put it into a pocket.

But Osaka is probably more neon garlanded than Tokyo. Whole fashionable shopping streets, neighbourhoods of covered arcades, signs on the tippity top of buildings, dripping in flashing multicoloured light, making (if I haven’t said this before) the night like day. Riding in it is a swivel rubbernecking visual feast. Eyes too big for my head. Wanting to see it all, but to do that you’ll need to walk and its too much fun being on the bike. Rolling alongside the crawling cabs, lining the pavement as they wait for fares.

Once the sightseeings done and the roll home commences, remember the hostile hostel has a curfew in effect so I’m heading back from about ten thirty/eleven, I’m constantly surprised by the people, the men, women, couples, friends riding back from wherever to who the fuck knows where. I shouldn’t be as I mentioned up post, there are more bikes and more people riding them than in Tokyo, but still in my head I’m set in London mode where its just me and the forum bodkins that ride all day e’rday, and roll back late at night from some assignation somewhere on the other side of town.

Here you get people rolling back on bikes with tracknuts so you can carry two, girls on bmx’s with their friend standing behind them, balanced on the balls of their feet, hands pressed on the riders shoulder. Girlfriends perched side saddle on the rack at the back of the ubiquitous shopper, or toes pushed onto the bolts where the trackstand attaches to the frame. Cycling as communal activity, I have no idea how far they have to go, whether its just to the nearest metro/rail station, all the way to the edge of beyond, or just round the corner, but it does warm the cockles of me little south london heart.

hostile hostel?

In japan, travelling on January 25, 2010 at 3:45 pm

so I’ve moved from Osaka to Kyoto, from one hostel to another. I’ll post up some bits about osaka in a little bit. But right now I’m in a noisy lounge/common room, at K’s House in Kyoto, listening to the young backpackers from around the world, using english as their communal language, describe their lives, bond, and chat shit, over beer, whiskey and various other alcoholic beverages. And it feels vibrant and exciting, and interesting, and what travelling should be like. Exchanging stories of where you’ve been, where your planning on going, what you like, dislike, love, hate, can’t stand, can’t do without.

Its a far cry from the International Youth Hostel I was staying in, in Osaka, nice facilities, but who new Shin Osaka, wasn’t actually in Osaka, but on the outskirts. Its a bit like staying in a hostel in Newcastle to find out that actually its in Gateshead. So add in the extra ten/twenty mins to get into the center of town, with the curfew (a gotdamned curfew in this day and age), doors closed at 12,  so if you missed it, sat out until 6 before you can get back in, but then vacate your room by 10 so they can clean it till 4. Only use the showers between 6 and 9 or 4 and 12. And the rules just kept mounting up, and up, and up, just oppressing the free westerner in me. It made me want to rebel.

It felt like going back to school after drinking shots till noon in university. I’m pretty sure it had a big impact on my feelings towards Osaka. I’ve just arrived in Kyoto and spent the last four or so hours just riding aimlessly around, without a care in the word about the time, I’ve got a key, I’ll be quiet when I get back, I won’t make a mess, or wake the neighbours, and it frees me to just explore, to search and see whats out there without worrying about a time constraint.

I want to be free, to do what I want, any old time!!!

K’s House treats me like an adult, and though the young westerners are loud, and raucous and want cheap alcohol, for me I can relate. The silent, taciturn japanese in the other hostel (unless of course they are mumbling to themselves, whilst watching the tv, scare me slightly. You know the one crazy person on the tube, whose gaze you catch and you know it’s just going to go downhill, imagine eating/blogging/drinking – cause you can’t in your dorm – in the same space, knowing that once your eyes meet it will be all kinds of wrong) didn’t feel the place with life and vigour, maybe it was their age. I’m not exactly setting this place alight right now, but meh, right now I’m documenting not participating. Maybe it was the fact they were just passing through, maybe they were quiet because westerners were there, who knows. I just know I won’t be heading back to any hostel run by that organisation on my forthcoming travels….

shinkansen

In japan, travelling on January 21, 2010 at 3:31 pm

Just got off the Shinkansen (bullet train) from Tokyo to Osaka, and it was Suuuuweeeet. No hassle, the train was wicked fast and all I did was sit back, read comics (kick ass, does indeed kick ass) and watch the world go by so quickly it dazzled me. Japan’s countryside is a mish mash of ordered, spaces, factories, and then the most amazing mountains and hills forging up just over yonder, mist and clouds enveloping the peaks. Lots of corporate buildings as you rush through the countryside, saw this huge Sanyo built solar bloc, thing was huge, just sticking out of the woodland have no idea what it does, I’m assuming its a solar powered thing, but why?

You rush through the countryside at a rate of knots, and you can see the view moving past but it doesn’t feel like your moving fast, its like in the train your existing outside of time. It doesn’t wobble, it doesn’t creak, it doesn’t do anything but move quickly and quietly. The trains don’t wait that long at stations, less than five mins, and they are off again. So if you’ve got to maneuver lots of luggage you got to step lively. I was lucky that my stop Shin-Osaka was the end of the line, so there wasn’t any fear of leaving bike or clothes on the train whilst it whistled off into the distance.

Got me an all japan rail pass, so I’ll be heading out to kyoto, and maybe kobe, and will be doing Himeji castle which isn’t that far away from here.

Long live the Shinkansen

all about the ride: Shibuya to Kuramae

In bike, japan on January 20, 2010 at 4:13 pm

Spent the afternoon, walking around the fixed shops in Tokyo, Carnival, Sexon Super Peace, and Dreamworks. Lovely to see so much fixed goodness about, spent alot of time taking photo’s of the bikes out on the street, locked up, and waiting for their owners to return so they can do what they were designed to do and race down the tarmac, the epitome of man machine interface, clipped in and rolling, perpetual motion mechanisms, eternally turning.

It wasn’t that late when I began the ride, but it gets dark quick here in Tokyo, I’m sure there’s some explanation for this, but it explains why Tokyo is the epicentre for all neon related light things. Roll through town after dark and it is as bright as day, no need for street lights let the neon signs point the way.

From Shibuya to Kuramae is like 40mins, but those 40mins were some of the best I’ve had riding a bike, up the little ascent from the infamous Shibuya crossing, away from the fashionable young things, crossing and recrossing, under the looped video screens, the warblings of Susan Doyle (yes she is big in Japan), Alicia Keys and the other diva’s who the Japanese gravitate to, past the stopped traffic turning left, onwards and upwards along the four lane highway that is Aoyama Dori, trying to out race the traffic that hunts behind you, chest tightening, thinking I should have taken a pull on the inhaler. Slow into the regular cadence as I crest the incline, looking left and right, widening the eyes, not wanting to miss a thing. Not one building, sign, bike locked up along the railings, wanting to take it all in, remember it all, wondering why science hasn’t created the camera that is attuned to the retina, that replaces it so I won’t have to stop, pull out a camera, focus, shape a shot and then shoot it, all the time losing the immediacy of the moment, because I’ve already swept past it, lost the chance to immortalise it.

Look over the right shoulder, trying to remember how to get to where I want to go, looking up, checking the signage, ignoring the kanji, looking at the words that only a few short days ago meant nothing at all. Looking more for the number, rather than the name. 413 is all I need. It’ll lead me back to where I need to be. Slip across the four lanes to be on the right side, unclip as I will do countless times on the journey and settle my groin onto the top tube, look at the people crossing, the myriad faces and styles, the uniforms they’ve adopted, so many suits and heels.

It hits me then I’m in Japan, every face oriental, seems stupid, but it is the sheer number of faces that brings it home, so many. Fat, thin, dark, light, but all of them, all of them Japanese. Know truly I am the foreigner here. Jump the lights as they change, swing right, and downhill along Nireke Dori, past the cubist/bulbous Prada building, multiple floors of fashionable consumerist need.

Roads pretty empty as Nireke Dori swings left, downhill all the way, roads dark, streetlights illuminate the road, not many cars coming this way at this time, legs spin, spin, spin, down through the quietude of Aoyama Cemetery, the road splits it in two, lying on either side of me, small headstones, darkened and almost invisible. I carry on, down, down, through the man made tunnel/overpass, which turns Nireke Dori into Akasaka Dori, road narrowing, road works at the junction. Large man waving a red stick, stopping traffic on one side, waving us forward on the other, admonishing a taxi driver who has the temerity to stop out of turn.

The roads just one lane each way now, filter through the center, enjoying the closeness of the wing mirrors, not looking at, but still seeing the shops on either side, the people waiting patiently for the lights to change, the green man to appear so they can cross the road. Sitting on the top tube, wondering why no one crosses when there’s a gap in traffic like we Londoners would. Wondering what it would be like to be a part of this conformity, would I be the rusty nail that is hammered down, or would I bend so that I wouldn’t be broken.

Hoof it and whip right onto the super highway that is Sotobori Dori, past the legions of cabs, that sit outside of any corporate headquarters or business area, three deep and  lined up around the block, to take the salarymen and women to someplace else. It is more obvious here than anywhere else, that this is a larger city than london, that there are more here than the eight million or so souls that call my birthplace  home.

Flick past the cabs which sit patiently, roll on towards Kuramae, trust my navigation tonight, trust the visual information I’ve absorbed on my other rides, trust that I’ll know which roads to take, which turns to look out for. Decide to head towards Ginza. If Shibuya is where the bright young things shop, where the cutting edge bleeds, then Ginza is where their parents shop, wealth and style combined together as the luxury brands, bunch together, oh so nonchalantly wanting you to spend your money there, but in no way trying to get you to, that would be oh so very vulgar, too much like needing your custom rather than you wanting to give them your hard earned.

Hit the switch, and take the left, sweeping into it, leaning into it, smile broad across my face, the taxi’s lined up just like the last time, waiting, eternally waiting for the television industry folks to step out from the huge building and into their vehicles. Head up Chou Dori, having a 2001 moment, for the street is “full of stars” The night illuminated by the signs which run the height of each building, advertising every business in it and which floor it is situated on. Slow down and take it in, want to ride down it bereft of cars, like I walk down the center of deserted night streets at home. Nostrils filled with the sweet perfume pungency of the fragrance sellers. Inhale. Exhale. It disappears as I head down the wide street, filtering through the center of the taxi traffic, looking for the six, which will take me off up north towards Kuramae.

all about the ride: Tokyo Edition

In bike, japan on January 19, 2010 at 3:25 pm

Riding in Tokyo is cool, the roads are wide, generally two to four lanes on the big main thoroughfares I’ve used, and well tarmaced, some of the smoothest, nicest surfaces I’ve rolled over. Riding across town takes about half an hour, forty mins, probably less if you cane it, but I’ve been quite sedate. Haven’t hit many of the smaller roads, as they seem to be filled with pedestrians. The actually center of Tokyo, the bits which aren’t the suburbs, would take you an hour to ride from east to west, north to south. Which is great because your never that far away from home, also Tokyo doesn’t have any hills, otherwise known as zaka’s or zaza’s. They have inclines, think Pentonville road, but less steep and longer, depending on your leg strength you’ll probably get out of the saddle a little bit, and maybe be a little puffed, but nothing which you look at and think “fuck me, I’m not going to make it up that.”

I hear Kyoto has more hills, as the temples/shrines are built further out of town on hillsides, so I’m reserving judgement on how easy it’ll be for me to get the old self up them.

But I digress, back to Tokyo riding, they drive on the right side of the road, so no need to second guess myself when it comes to looking left or right, and the drivers seem to be plenty considerate of cyclists, the only thing with Tokyo is that the light sequences are LOOOOOONNNNNNNNNG!!! Like a drum and bass intro, drivers routinely, turn off their engines at the lights. Let me repeat this for you, they turn off their engines. And they don’t have an amber light, so they go straight from red to green and you get a load of cars which try to anticipate it, and just edge forward on the red for AAAAAGES.

Late at night the roads are pretty empty once you get out of the very center of Tokyo, and so you can jump them to your hearts content, but I’m trying to be legal, and am refraining unless its a tumbleweed filled western road. Probably by the time I leave I’ll be jumping them like it’s old London town. But also with the roads being so wide, if you try to jump them during the day or anywhere close to rush hour YOU WILL be turned into roadkill.

People CYCLE over here, a bike is transportation, a way of getting themselves and cargo from a to b, they are not precious about their bikes. And all of them, and I mean all of them, have kickstands, even the fixed ones. Some the one legged, one sided type, but most the two sided lift back wheel off the floor kind. They are ubiquitous. You’ll see rows and rows of shoppers, step through frames, with baskets on the front, propped up on their kick stand,  free locked through the back wheel. I’ve properly gotten the fear when I’ve seen some of the riders on their bikes out here, riding round, with their kickstand skating perilously close to the ground, because they haven’t pushed it back properly, sending an anxious look over my shoulder to see if that left turn, dug the kickstand into the road and sent them sprawling.

And they don’t seem to have much road sense either, they will ride their bike through a crowd of people on the pavement, weave the wrong way down a road, try and squeeze over a crossing when the lights are against them, all to get to their destination just a little quicker. Yet they are cycling, which makes me happy, it feels like a lot more ride here than in London, a lot more. More on the scale of Denmark or Holland or any of them great European countries where you see people replacing cars with bikes. Tokyo’s another one of those cities, which because of the great transportation links, you really don’t need to own a car to get around, just hop on the metro and despite the crush during rush hour, there you go, out at your destination.

So lots of bikes here, lots and lots of them, people ride low slung cruisers, bmx’s, mountain bikes, but shoppers with big wheels and step through frames are all the rage here, there are some road (geared bikes) aficionado’s who roll out the high end stuff, i’ve seen de rosa’s, pinarello’s, bianchi’s, high end exotica, you name it I’ve seen it. They even close off the roads around the imperial castle in the center of town on a Sunday and people come out and do laps either jogging or cycling , it’s about a five kilo loop and the boys whizz round, head to toe in liveried lycra splendour. They will even load you a bike if you don’t have one.
But the bikes you see on the everday are transport, not there to be ogled at or photos taken of, they get you and your cargo from a to b, whether that’s taking kids to school or bringing the shopping back from the Market.
I like this, cycling is seen as everyday, so everyday that people don’t spend alot of money on their bikes because they will ride them hard, as Outkast used to say “All day, Er’day”, not because its seen as something to be stolen and your only going to ride it during the summer anyway.

So the fixed thing seems like a bit of an aberration because they ride their bikes everyday yet they spend more money on them than seems reasonable, it’s a combining of the high end male exotica fetish and the bike as transportation ethic. Over the last couple of days I’d been disappointed by the lack of track bike action here in the land of Keirin racing, but it was just that I wasn’t looking in the right place. I took a trip down to Shibuya, and let me tell you, lots of track bikes there, Japan’s answer to the hipster highway (ride to Old St, from Tottenham Court Road, and you’ll see more fixed bikes in twenty odd mins, than you’ll see for days in the rest of London) Shibuya’s like that but you don’t even have to go anywhere, just sit on the famous crossing by Shibuya Metro and they will come to you.

Think of Shibuya as Camden/Shoreditch/Oxford St but with more money thrown at the clothes. Everyone dressed to the nines just to stand outside shops, or to do more shopping. Intense is not even close to conveying how insane it is to see that many people moving across a crossing, not just once, but every couple of mins. You stand there and wonder where they are all going to, and what they are going to do when they get there.

Tokyo feels comfortable, yet strange with a capital S all at the same time. And just when I think I know where I’m going and am navigating myself well across town, the place up and kicks me in the ass. Very disconcerting.

Tokyo oh Tokyo

In japan, travelling on January 18, 2010 at 4:51 pm

Starting to feel at home here, it wasn’t that immediate love that I have for Barcelona or Berlin, but it’s growing on me, I think it’s the way the city glows at night, all the bright neon signs hung along the height of the buildings, riding through Ginza, their Oxford St and Regent St and New Bond St combined. One long thoroughfare to conspicuous consumption, so be-sparkled and twinkling a feast for the eyes, you can’t help but be dazzled by it, the city, and its eager desire to show itself off to you.
I haven’t done much exploring of the side streets and some of the recommended areas like shimo kitazawa or shibuya, or even shinjuku, but I will do. It feels very familiar as I was hoping every city I traveled to would, don’t get me wrong, there is an immense feeling of dislocation and this is someplace I’ve never been to before, and it sure doesn’t feel the same as Stockholm or berlin or Paris, but it has that big city, cultural capital if not capital capital feel, that having grown up in London I immediately sense and feel comfortable with. Big Cities are where I feel most comfortable, the rhythms of them, the ebb and flow of people, and place, the creeping gentrification, the down at heel, the merging of areas, as two places become one, the demarcation of one neighbourhood from another, finding a niche in there that feels similar, but still distinct enough to mark this out as a place you’ve never been to.
Tokyo is an assault on the senses particularly the eyes with every street, building, person calling on you to examine them, to look at them, to really see them, it is an assault I’m quickly growing used to (even though I’ve only been here three days) and finding that I am actually starting to enjoy

Side note, stopped at some lights today as I was in my way to ryogoku and looked up into the darkening dusk sky and saw a lone star, a quarter moon, and the clouds spread thin and wispy like a giants fingerprint.