I completely forgot to tell you how I got to know the girls! So we met whilst I was still in India. Parts of India are overwhelming, and I was really happy to meet two girls, who were experiencing a similar feeling to me. We got talking in one of the beach shacks and said we would stay in contact going forwards. I should say for me, that it is quite unusual for me to just start talking to someone, or in this case two people, and feel so at ease. So I was really pleasantly surprised how quickly I felt comfortable with the girls. We all continued our journeys alone but randomly agreed to meet again in Japan! And we are still here, so let me bring you back up to speed.
Everything you’ve seen about the Japanese being very polite, and bowing a lot, is absolutely true. It’s not some mad stereotype, like French people walking around with strings of onions around their necks. It’s real, and it’s going to happen to you a lot.
You really need to practise this before you go. If you do your first one in the lobby of a hotel after a big breakfast, it’s going to be dismal. Have a look at some light-to-medium-strength Japanese bowing on YouTube, and pop a couple before you go. You don’t want to do a western “just looking to see if I have spilt gravy on my shirt” bow. Something a bit crisper and from the hips will make you feel like quite the cosmopolitan guy. Get in there.
Having negotiated the bowing we’re out onto the streets of Tokyo. It’s the start of cherry-blossom season, and Tokyo is drunk on it. Figuratively – there are cherry blossom insignia on the manhole covers and on boxes of tiny chocolates, and pinned in girls’ hair, and in huge boughs, draped across every doorway – and literally: in Ueno Park, thousands sit on blankets, under the trees, surrounded by lanterns, drinking and singing.
A city in love with blossom is a beautiful thing – businessmen in suits take selfies of themselves next to particularly winsome sprays. Tokyo is delightful. Tokyo wants you to have a lovely time. In order to counteract its terrifying hugeness – even on a bullet train, it takes half an hour to clear its suburbs – it will open doors for you, it will make sure your hands are cleaned with hot towels before lunch, it will tell you exactly where to stand on each platform, it will let you wander around dressed up as a schoolgirl, princess or robot. So long as you can do something delightfully, Tokyo will absolutely defend to the death your right to do that.
A teenage girl is as apt to fall in love with a beautiful city as she is with a beautiful boy. As Tyler takes us on a circular tour that takes us from shrines to neon to blossom-filled parks, they rate it against other capital cities, in the same way you’d rate pop-star crushes.
Here is a warning to vegetarians and vegans: Japan doesn’t really do things without fish in. Bonito (dried tuna flakes) form the basis of nearly everything. You know the vegetarian sushi
you love? That’s a Californian invention. They don’t do it here. And there’s no such thing as salad outside the cities. Although our tour operators go to incredible lengths to cater for Nancy, in the countryside, veganism consists of a lot of glutinous rice, and “boiled swede and broccoli” for breakfast.
On our last day – back in Tokyo – we walked for an hour to get a salad, and when Nancy saw her first slice of cucumber for a week, she held it up on her fork and sang God Save the Queen at it, while crying.
City vs Nature
Tokyo has really been amazing, I feel like it is a city that never sleeps, although I have heard amazing talk of the mountains and the pristine beauty out there. Maybe my path will lead me there next too!