I’d like to be able to say that it was encountering this very very large “The Road to Japan” sign in the middle of Cardiff on Monday that inspired me to come back, but the truth is that I spotted some time ago a conveniently Japan-shaped gap between the end of teaching and the start of marking, and into that gap I have been contriving to slide for some time.
Anyway, one way or another, here I am for the next few weeks. As usual, I’ll be blogging my experiences, and although, this being my fifth time, my impressions no longer offer the new-mown rawness of those 2015 entries, I’ll be doing plenty of new things along the way, and and revisiting old ones with a hitherto-undreamt-of depth of wisdom and understanding. So far I have managed to lose only one contact lens.
I started last year's trip with a picture of the Hello Kitty shop in Haneda airport, so to balance things here's the Miffy shop in Amsterdam's Schiphol airport:
I don't say that one is a knock off of the other, but I do say that Miffy came first. Otherwise I have little to tell about the journey itself. I was initially seated next to a Japanese man, and spoke to him a little, but then a woman asked to swap seats so that she could be with her husband, and I naturally obliged. Her original seat turned out to be between another couple, so I swapped a second time, before finally settling down to watch Killing Eve, or rather the first five of eight episodes. I can see why people like it. The duel between detective and psychopathic nemesis has of course been done multiple times (revamped Sherlock/Moriarty of course, but also Morse with Hugo De Vries, Tomomi Masaoka and Shogo Makishima, etc.) but this is the first all-female iteration I've seen, and a very stylish one it is too. The story is based on a series of novels, so perhaps the stylishness is the contribution of Phoebe Waller-Bridge. As things stand, Fiona Shaw's character seems likely to be the Big Bad, to the extent that it will be a much more interesting twist if she isn't; perhaps I'll find out on the way back to the UK. (My only real gripe was the corrupt MI5 agent explaining that he'd gone to the dark side to fund cancer treatments that the NHS wouldn't pay for. I know this is made by BBC America, but really - Breaking Bad is not a good premise for a UK-set programme.)
The spring is a little late in Tokyo this year, which means that I was able to enjoy the last ofthe sakura on the Meguro river last night - although it was too dark for pictures, so you'll have to take my word for it. As a poor substitute, here I am outside my Airbnb, waiting for check-in time under a cherry tree, and thinking wistfully of transience.
I hope to overtake the sakura tide a bit later in my visit when I go north, but more on that at the time...
The Airbnb is good: I have a spacious room, it has everything I need, and although I'm apparently sharing the place with 10 or so other people I've barely seen any of them. Junko, the landlady, had a nice chat with me when I arrived, and altogether it's quiet and simpatico, as is its neighbourhood of Hatanodai (literally "flag stand"), which is the kind of place where you walk down the narrow shopping streets to the sound of glockenspiels played (quietly) on a public address system. An odd sensation to one raised in the West, but not unusual here it seems. The local Inari shrine is down an alley, but I'm glad it's there:
I gathered a bunch of zzzs overnight, and feel well on the way to triumphing over jetlag, but I will wait a little before hoisting the pennant of victory. Today I went to see my friend Tomoko at her home in Sagamihara, out in Kanagawa Prefecture. She and her husband gave me an amazing lunch including squid grilled by said husband at the table, tuna cheek, cabbage-wrapped sushi and the gizzards of various shellfish, among other delights. (What do you mean, shellfish don't have gizzards? Then what do you call these?)
Afterwards Tomoko and I wandered round the area, where she tested me by getting me to read the kanji on all the windows of the local businesses. That went fine until we became so animated trying to read what it said on the window of a cram school that the owner came out and told us to go away. Luckily it was not in his power to set us homework.