Sunday, July 29, 2007


What an amazing place Tokyo is. Something like the vibrancy of New York City but, unlike that city, no in your face attitude and feelings of danger when wandering in to the “wrong areas”. Late into the night, people out and about everywhere. The district of Shinjuku where I was staying is a flood of neon with masses of people at any time of day or night. Bars, restaurants and brightly colored shops. The main difference for a honky foreigner being that it’s not so easy to strike up a conversation in a bar with the person next to you. It seems that only a minority of people in Tokyo are comfortable in an English conversation. And mostly people seemed to avoid eye contact with me. No flirting encounters or opportunities, and not even an easy sporting conversation when watching Japan play the Saudis in the Asia Cup semi finals. That was pretty frustrating and made for a largely solo kind of a time.

Wandering into the red light district of Kabuki-cho brought the song The Boxer to mind in another parallel to New York.”…just a comeon from the whores on 7th Avenue. I do declare, there were times when I was so lonesome, I took some comfort there”. Not that I felt quite like that. I was too excited to be in Tokyo to get down about lack of conversation, but the only source on a couple of nights did seem to be from touts for strip bars or massage parlours, or a mama-san telling me that she had some beautiful Japanese girls who were willing and able to satisfy my every sexual need.

Tokyo. It just brought a smile to my face thinking that I was actually there. The HP guys that I had come to see for business were incredibly hospitable, several with their extremely limited conversational English. They took me out and introduced me to shōchū. It’s a kind of Japanese spirit – the type I had being made from potatoes and tasting similar to tequila, although not quite as strong. That being said, it had a very good kick and the HP guys certainly became a lot more animated in their attempts to speak English. My stories started to flow a little freer also and by the time I staggered back to my hotel, I was primed and ended up having the late night drunken international phone rants over more beer. Night guy had well and truly kicked in, with the inevitable result of a really shit time for morning guy the next day. Hungover, late for work, feeling very delicate and having to run a full day’s program of discussion with a meeting room full of people of mixed English language skills. Thanks be praised to the pharmaceutical conglomerates for their gifts to humanity of berocca, neurofen and visine.

And on the work front all seemed to go well. Firmly in the back of my mind however, perhaps somewhat closer to the front than that actually, are the thoughts of my father's business dealings in Japan. Ultimately very expensive and fruitless. Pretty much cost him the family home as more and more money was sunk into a business that promised much more than it delivered. What were his mistakes? Why didn't he see it coming? Can the same thing happen to me? He enjoyed visiting Tokyo also and likewise found his hosts to be very hospitable and seemingly interested in doing business with him. Perhaps the moral was to be slightly more cautious and not to bet the house on it.

Eating in Tokyo was one of the culinary highlights of my life. Every meal was something to look forward to. I managed to have sushi, sashimi, tempura, teppanyaki, soba, gyoza, ramen, noodle dishes, rice dishes, all of the highest order. So good! And eating in Japan was much cheaper than I expected. 950 yen (about $9.50) for gyoza, fried rice and a 600ml bottle of Sapporo. A lunchtime sashimi set was around the same amount. I never expected to be eating cheaper than I can in Melbourne. Even drinks in bars weren’t exceptionally pricey. Cheaper than Singapore that’s for sure.

And then some unique highlights. A toilet that even cleans your bum for you. After finishing a crap, you can press a button and a warm continuous stream of water shoots out the back of your toilet until you press the off button. Now I’m sure it sounds weird, and perhaps even slightly fetishest, but the temperature and pressure were so finely tuned that I could have sat there for hours. Then to complete the experience you press another button which starts a wave of warm air to dry you off. What luxury. I wonder if I can get one installed in Melbourne.

Then there was the current seeming obsession with Krispy Kreme doughnuts. Regardless of the time of day, a couple of hundred people were queued up waiting for their turn to purchase doughnuts. Further to that, there was actually a queue to get in the actual queue. Predicted waiting time was well over an hour. Now that is some serious dedication to doughnuts!