Posted by: Sam Olsen | May 25, 2013

Tokyo Time

As a fan of Blade Runner I had always wanted to visit Tokyo, this proto-science fiction city that has inspired numerous films and books alike.


The verdant, ridged mountains that we flew over on the way in were not quite what I was expecting so close to the city, and neither was the distinctly low-rise landscape once I had started my drive to the hotel: it appeared Hong Kong would make the replicants feel much more at home.


My taxi driver, middle aged and with swept back hair that made him look like an out of work actor – well, maybe he was – insisted on practicing his English and appointed out every building we sped past. Unfortunately for his learning they all had Japanese names so it kind of defeated the object, but it was a nice gesture at least. We went through several slightly run down suburbs and it was interesting to see that the locals weren’t the wealthy techno-geeks that many in the West assume to be the case – I didn’t see one robot the whole time I was there, though Deckard may have corrected me.


The Imperial hotel

, my home for the next few days, lies close to the Emperor’s official residence and was, in a previous incantation, a stylish building designed by the pinnacle of architecture, Frank Lloyd Wright. His version was famous for being one of the few edifices to survive the terrible 1923 earthquake, as well as the WWII firestorm launched by American bombers. Sadly for aesthetes, in fact anyone that isn’t a sycophant of ghastly 1960s concrete, will find the current version a touch of a let down.


My room summed up the state of Japan to a tee: it was obviously once rather grand and internationally ground breaking, but was looking quite tired now, just like the wider economy, and Meg Ryan. With the rise of Japan’s fortunes, how long will it be until the place has a facelift? Because in comparison to the hotel I stayed at in Shanghai last week, it really does need one.


I was in meetings for vast majority of daylight hours, but some of these were in Yokohama, a city 45 minutes away along the coast, so I was able to look around a bit. In fact, it looked very much like Tokyo: low-rise, but with less neon. Every office I visited was hot inside is hot as the aircon was never on. So at one meeting I was rather grateful therefore when the Japanese gentleman I was seeing, a thin man wearing a striped air force blue shirt, and thick black glasses over a round, kindly face, suggested I remove my jacket. No sooner had I done so when a whole bunch of other Japanese staff arrived, including his boss – the man I needed to speak to – and they were all fully jacketed. Great.


In the one evening I had off, I decided to head into town to see what the place had to offer. I selected the borough of Shinjuku (literally ‘New Lodge’, although there was not even an old lodge in sight), which is home to the largest rail station in the world, and although safe now, pretty dodgy in the old days so I heard from the hotel concierge.


After walking past thousands of vending machines, selling everything from coke to fags to toy dinosaurs, and more comic book stores than was healthy,Image I plucked up the courage to eat alone in a café cum restaurant. I was seated downstairs, surrounded by cheesy Japanese ballads and couples slurping, both the food and each other. My meal started with sesame bean sprouts, followed by spicy peanut and pork wontons on top of egg noodles with, curiously, a cold poached egg on the side. I was given a huge disposable bib to wear too – no one else was so this may have been a foreigners-only perk


After supper I had some time to kill before Iron Man 3 started at the cinema, so I had a look round the streets. There was not much English anywhere except funnily enough on the sign for Neals Yard Remedies – how much local custom did they receive?
 The atmosphere was relaxed, much more so than Hongkers, and the locals looked quite jolly and carefree. An old woman was settling in to her doorway for the night which was a bit of a surprise as I didn’t realise they had many homeless people here.


In the cinema, which was depressingly like any movie theatre anywhere in the Western world, I bought a coke and burrito. To my delight I was given a plastic tray shaped like an old-fashioned ring pull to hold the items and take to my seat

I was slightly surprised to see the pre-film adverts included a jaunty animated plug for a tobacco brand named ‘Good Man’ which showed a boy tripping over something, pinning his girlfriend down to a park bench and then snogging her. Whereupon he took a deep drag of his fag. The creative types must have been given a fine bonus for that one.


I really enjoyed the film, and could have quite easily embarked on a night on the town. But bed was calling, so I searched for a lift home. The taxis looked like a mix of the old fashioned black marias and the car from the latest Green Hornet movie, all dark and pseudo-gothic. Some of them have bizarre adverts on them, all painted in gold pen, including a talking dolphin which might or might not have said “Eat me” (topical reference to the Cove there). It appeared too that the night taxistas were mostly elderly men with nearly combed hair and thick metal rimmed glasses, wearing clean white gloves, and all driving calmly and in silence.


My ride home bore a total lack of resemblance to the cab experience of Hong Kong.

 In fact, it was all quite different from my new home. But somehow it was just as addictive, so I look forward to returning soon.



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