Sunday, October 24, 2010

Niban - of dragons and bamboo

Mina-san, Konbanwa! (<-- subliminal japanese lesson)

Its been two weeks since I moved to the small city of Fuchu-shi in suburban Tokyo, and you'll be glad to know, after a painful amount of walking around town, that I am now the proud owner of a mamachari! This is the typical japanese bicycle - think, overworked mom with a kid in the front basket and loads of shopping in the back and all her neighbours` kids on their own bikes trailing behind her - and it certainly must be the national mode of transport because e v e r y o n e uses them.

Now, this is no aerodynamic piece of kit. Especially mine.. its worn out, noisy, joints creaking dangerously everytime i go over a speed bump, it's even harder to ride with the lights on.. but it must be said it is ideeal for this country. You cannot speed, can't show off, people can hear you coming from a mile away. It doesn't hurt your back because its modeled after a chair (rather than a bullet)... and who would bother stealing it?.. its brilliant! I won't go into the city's mandatory bike registration system and its genius locking device, but suffice to say i feel very safe riding it.. (haunted by memories of riding a London bus to work with bike lock at hand that's been brutally cut in half, a souvenir of my london cycling days)

But the reason i`m writing my second post today, is not in fact to tell you about my mamachari.. I was riding yesterday through this evergreen part of the world, completely mesmerised by how the built environment blends in with the natural in this place. In fact i discovered a long path dedicated to pedestrians and bicycles leading to the Tama river in the south part of town - a path so sheltered from the noisy city and so green, its even green on the map! And I finally felt, after a loong time, peaceful and content. So much so that i've decided to begin sharing with you this 18 month adventure...

So i'll start with my journey here... (taken from random scribbles on anything paper-like with anything pen-like i could find on the plane)


I`ve been a good girl and have arrived at the JAL check-in desk, two hours before my 7 o'clock flight to Tokyo. I am informed by the wide-eyed smiley japanese lady behind the desk, as she receives my passport, that the plane is full and there are no seats left....
At this point I have flashbacks of other times this year while planning this trip, when wide-eyed smiley people have broken unpleasant news to me, still smiling, my own reciprocating smile turning into a gasp of starting to develop a phobia for such smiles i think...

She tells me that means i can`t get a window or an aisle seat. *I breathe again*.. its okay, its only an 11 hour trip, no big deal to be sitting between people.. and for some reason 11 hours sounds so much better than 12.

'Pray, how soon should I come next time to ensure a better seat?'
'Our check-in desk opens at 3 o`clock'... smile
'Eh?? Four hours before the flight?`
[Note to self: At Heathrow Terminal 3, JAL check-in desk, i'm already in Japan]


I'm sitting on the plane, between a middle aged japanese man on the window seat and a shy japanese girl on the aisle seat. There is a 20 minute delay and the pilot is apologising profusely.

There`s a large screen a few rows ahead of me and its showing airport staff loading our luggage onto the plane... ohh, how nice! there must be cameras underneath the plane. Wait.. you mean they've installed cameras on the outside of the plane?

Why! To give me a better feel for how high, 40,000 feet really is?!... who came up with that idea!! It must've been on some 'How can we improve our service to you' feedback form from a 9 year old or something, along with 'a plane with a glass-bottom!` (they're still working on that one).. What happens if we're crashing?? " Just look on your screen folks, we'll be reaching the ground in just a few minutes!"

Actually, that is precisely what they were, and when you're not crashing, its actually kinda pleasant. At certain points during the flight it was more entertaining than watching on-flight entertainment. Like for example during take-off: oh look at all those city liiights *preettyyy*. Or..*oohhh, i can see the staaars!*

So you may have picked up that im alittle nervous about flying. But actually, this was the most peaceful and second most enjoyable flight i've ever experienced. ( The first was India - no cameras but the movies were awesome..). Here's how i reasoned with myself to stop stressing:

1.  Look at that smiley air stewardess (with the voice of a twelve year old might I add, especially when she's breathing the menu down the microphone). She probably does this trip what, 5 times a week? Okay, once a week even - although she's japanese so its probably 5. She seems pretty relaxed about flying.. in fact, most people around me were japanese and seemed so very accustomed to such flights. The guy next to me, when we started chatting, had travelled from Japan to London to Luxembourg to Los Angeles for business, and was just returning. Since being in Tokyo i've met people whom it takes 36 hours to fly home... 36 hours!! Three 10 hour flights to go home to Brazil. Pff..and im worried about a once in a lifetime 11?

2. *Panic panic panic* Now wait a minute Scal... First I remembered I'd flown to Boston for 7 hours, and then back from New York in 9. I've done India in another 9. More importantly, i remember that during both those flights I kept thinking: 'Can you imagine if I was going to Japan?'or 'Oh, why couldn't I be going to Japan'.. Well guess what, I am..

In fact, I was so excited that all i had to do was sit in place for 12 hours and be rewarded with Japan, that I agreed with myself that if I had to, I would quite happily sit on that plane for a week to get there.. And that`s what I did. Not fly for a week that is, but I sat there..and didn't watch any movies, or play any video games (yes, you can do that..) until 1 hour before landing. It was too surreal, i was going to Japan! I didn't need Tom Cruise and Cameron Diaz to escape, i needed someone to hold me down in my seat!...

We happened to be sitting right next to the wing of the plane. As we were taking off I looked outside my neighbour's window, and could just about see the back of the wing. The flaps, were so massive, that as they were moving up and down with the wind, they looked nothing like a plane's wing, more like the wings of a bat... As we were ascending, the smooth steady piloting, the aluminium webb-like wings, the sheer size of this monster I was riding... I was quite convinced that I was flying to Japan in the belly of a Dragon. And i felt honoured.


*Sniff*....*Sniff Sniff* can`t be!....I smell...*Sniiiiiiifff*....what's that smell, it's..*Sniiiiiiiff*..its Sesame Oil! I smell Sesame Oil!! ITS A MIRACLE AT 40,000 FEET.. A JAL MIRACLE! *deeeeep breaths*..*feed through the nose, just feed through the nose*.. I tell you - after all that anticipation and excitement and anxiety, the smell of sesame oil which filled the plane was something out of heaven. Dinner tiime! We were given a nice little wet towel to wipe our hands and face..(well, at least I used it on my face).. and then given a choice. "Sumimasen, would you like a Hambaga? or the Chicken and vegetables with rice". Dammit woman, i didnt come all this way to eat a burger! Get me some asian food..

I got some Soba noodles with a sauce cryptically labeled 'noodle sauce', not even the guy next to me would tell me what was in it, a main dish that looked suspiciously like chinese take-away, and a salad with...fetta and olives?!. That was an odd touch to a London-Tokyo flight, nonetheless appreciated.

We landed more or less on time - by that time my right leg was starting to complain (yes it took 11 hours to start feeling it, I was too excited I tell you) - and I have never in my life landed in such a green country. Even Narita airport is surrounded by trees. I had told some of you that the first day it rains while I'm in Tokyo will be one of my happiest. It was actually raining when we landed. In fact it rains every other day here...

I leave you with some photos of what's quickly becoming one of my most favourite elements in Japan... bamboo

Wednesday, October 13, 2010


Mina-san, irashaimasen...!

(As japanese classes progress I may find that this is not the way one greets newcomers to ones blog. Nonetheless, it's how I am greeted on a daily basis here in Tokyo.. so to be on the safe side, please pretend you're entering my ramen shop..)

I`ll keep this brief. Why a blog? Because you're curious.... of what it's like to live in Tokyo. Understandably!

And as curiosity is married to the familiar but will always belong to the unknown, from this blog expect to get, alittle of what you hoped for, and perhaps a whole lot you didn't bargain for. But i guess curiosity is the card hidden in the sleeve of life's grand toxedo - its way of saying "got you there.. didn't expect that didya?.." - otherwise our lives would never willingly change. And our world would be a monotonous backdrop, to a very boring act, in an empty auditorium.

This is my way of preparing you for the telling of a somewhat personal journey through Japan - hence the blog title -  and one that has not yet been written, hence is of a mood yet to be determined. Be warned, and please forgive me, it may not resonate at your own frequencies. I should forgive myself also in advance, as I know it will not always resonate with mine..

Comments always welcome.. I will try and post pictures as soon I reveal my true identity here as a tourist.

Without further ado..

And as they say over here.. Please enjoy!

(......or else)