Greetings from Hiroshima Part Two: A Country Bumpkin Hits Tokyo City
by Ben Laycock
The plane lands safely (thank you Jehovah) I catch the Shinkansen to Shinjuku. After alighting from the bullet train I am a little disoriented …
Tokyo Central Station has no less than 5 levels. Three subway levels, ground level and the Shinkansen that travels in air. I descend into the nether world of the subway. There are entire shopping complexes down here, run by Vampires that rarely see the light of day. Within minutes I have no idea if the earth’s crust is up or down. When I finally escape and fill my lungs with ‘fresh air’ (I use the term loosely) there is not an inch of space amongst this seething mass of humanity, rushing madly hither and thither like ants on crack. I am instantly overwhelmed with feelings of claustrophobia. I am a country lad, remember, never having never found myself amongst such a throng outside the house of the Lord.
Luckily I spy, out of the corner of my eye, a little patch of green, an oasis in this concrete desert. But lo and behold, an officious looking sentry bars the gate, demanding payment. Breathing space obviously commands a premium in this country and I willingly hand over the ransom.
To my immense relief I find myself almost alone in the most picturesque of gardens, a babbling brook here, a cherry tree there, balanced by a nice rock, every twig and blade manicured to perfection, which of course is the Japanese way when confronted with unruly nature. The environment is seen as mere Play Doh for the ikebana artist to mold and shape to her will. I soon spy an empty bench on which to lay my weary head. My eyelids fall. I drift into the sweet unconscious. … I am rudely awoken by a prod from our officious little friend: “No Sleep in Park. Read sign” Am I trapped in a Luenig cartoon?
My friend Mikio is not yet twenty-six years of age yet he has already achieved the lofty heights of success, being the editor of The National Ikebana Magazine, no less. Mikio lives at home with his mother. He has a car, but not a girlfriend. His room is the same size as his car, I kid you not. The Japanese, not unlike our good selves, love drinking. Every evening after knocking off work around 6 or 7pm Mikio is obliged spend a couple of hours with his workmates in the company’s rooftop bar getting absolutely blotto.
My friend is keen to show me the depth and richness of his ancient culture, and this is an area where our two nations are polls apart. The Japanese are quite taken with the odd ways of western culture, they are in fact great fans of the essence of our way of life: Hollywood, Disneyland, McDonalds, but it is for them mere light entertainment. Sure they love Maccas and all that crap, but for something really special one must of course, go Japanese. We, on the other hand, are happy to eat meat pies and fish and chips till we drop dead, but for something really special we must also go Japanese … or French or Eritrean or anything but plain old Ozzie.
Sad but true.
In the next chapter our intrepid cultural explorer discovers Karaoke, gets the gong from a real, live, Zen Buddhist, stumbles across a Shinto shrine and hopefully gets to Hiroshima by August the sixth, in time for The Big Demo.