Friday, May 24, 2024

Life in Tokyo - Two old friends and a new wife

It takes time to make friends in Tokyo, however, when you do, you tend to keep them. I first arrived in Japan many years ago and non-Japanese were so thin on the ground, you'd cross the road to say "hello" if you saw one. Young school kids would run up and touch me and run off laughing because they'd engaged a "foreigner". I even once signed an entire train carriage of school kids' note books as they queued up to ask for an English signature. But the friends you make, you keep.

And so, in the last week, I've caught up with two old friends. One absent from Japan for five years (remembering our doors were closed for three of those) and one for fifteen (he's the one with the new lovely wife if you were wondering). The door closure here lasted longer than many countries and although I have Permanent Residency (they'd lock me up rather than throw me out) the Government made it clear that, in the instance I flew out for any reason, I probably wouldn't be allowed back. I have friends who were stuck away from homes, friends and careers for over two years.

But the doors did re-open (somewhat chaotically) in May 2023. The online registration system didn't work for many people and arrival at the airport you were greeted by two signs, one, if you've registered your Japan vaccinations  you went to the right and the alternative might as well have said "lepers this way". But things are getting back to normal, the tourists are back which is good for businesses and, given the pain they went through for nearly three years, I'm not going to complain. But flight ticket prices remain more than twice pre-pandemic. But I was glad to see my friends. Welcome back.

Thursday, April 25, 2024

Life in Tokyo - Two Weddings a Funeral and quite a Concert

Tokyo can throw a lot at you in a very short space of time. But I enjoy it, although it can take a little planning, and sometimes you need to be ready to change those plans at the drop of a hat. The first of two weddings was wonderful and at Meiji Shrine in central Tokyo. Full, beautiful Japanese regalia, bride radiant and husband regal. Dress code was "formal" and so, being English, I was full black tie (which had taken me some time to dig out of the back of the wardrobe) and was completely upstaged by an Italian guy who wore his so well he could have ordered a martini "shaken, not stirred". The Australian guests were in their finest Hawaiian shirts (which still looked great, they were there to celebrate with the couple, which, at the end of the day is all that matters). It was my first time behind the scenes at Meiji Shrine, and, although raining, the sunshine was out as far as I was concerned. What a great day.

The second wedding was just as wonderful but this time I'd been asked to speak. This go around was on the water and again the bride looked absolutely beautiful. The groom is from America and many of his friends had flown in to be there. They were a wonderful gaggle of old friends, some from his youngest days, here to see something so important. When it came to my turn in the speeches, the groom had asked me not to let him know what I would be saying. Which I didn't. But I let the bride know that he was unaware of what was coming. And so I read a poem by John Cooper Clark I'd first heard some forty years ago. And many of the ladies cried. And so did some of the guys. What a wonderful day. I'd asked an international interpreter if it could be translated and she just said "can't be done". So I'm afraid it was only in English; but the sentiment was there. I also turned to an acting coach to help me not become too emotional, so as I read it, in my mind I was reciting Henry V. The Japanese lady, speaking after me, took a moment to compose herself and was also wonderful.

The saddest moment of the last few weeks was our friend's dog passing away at sixteen. Our dog passed away almost two years ago and I still feel it today. Here, there is an option to cremate a pet. A small van will come to your house and your pet is placed inside. The driver will leave for an hour or so and come back with your pets ashes in a small urn and a smaller bracelet so you can be together for special events. My friends held it together though they'd lost their other dog only a few months before, but I really felt for them, we'd known him for more that ten years but it was nothing like the emotion they were going through. Farewell my friend.

But to finish on a brighter note, Queen came to Japan recently. They've loved this country from their early days and were recognized a decade before America picked up on them. Adam Lambert, out front, was not only awesome but extremely deferential to Freddy, standing back and letting the band play when the moments came. My son and I had seen Adam Lambert when he first appeared on American Idol more that a decade ago, and before anyone laughs, unless Smokey Robinson has ever given you a standing ovation, you have some practice to do. And so I sourced two tickets for my son (now mid-twenties) for his birthday so he could go with a friend. I explained, he looked at me and immediately gave me one of the tickets back saying "we're going together". That was a pretty cool moment I really won't forget in my life. And it really was an awesome show.


Wednesday, March 20, 2024

Life in Tokyo - as days go by

 So, there is a general rule of thumb that you never try and do more than three things in a day in Tokyo. You can try but your performance is going to head south the further you go. And before arguments commence, going to work or looking after a baby count as one each, been there, seen it, done it. And anyone looking after a baby has already completed more than anyone going to work at the time of reading so don't complain to your spouse you're tired...

Last week thought I had an "interesting" day. I'd known I had a memorial service on the day (not a sad one, he'd had a good innings and passed with the beer he loved, in his hand) but in Japan you reflect on the person a year to the day after their leaving. So, suit on, and we went to the shrine where his remains are held until his wife also passes and then we'll inter them together. The chanting of the priest is hypnotic but we quietly payed our respects and moved on. To the next funeral. This was, admittedly sad and a few tears were shed. But good to be there.

After that one, coming home I received a message from a friend to say he was having a hard time and could we go for a beer. I caught up with him early evening in the (relatively) new Shibuya Yokocho (you'll find me half way along sitting at the red tables). A few drinks down and he was feeling much more in touch with the world and I had an enjoyable walk home through the center of Shibuya across the scramble to where I live past a thousand people.

And I'd achieved my three things. Two funerals and a beer. Not quite a movie title, but you can't have everything...

Wednesday, March 6, 2024

Life in Tokyo - Sometimes it can get a little hectic

There was an old saying about life in Tokyo, "never try to do more than three things in a day". Going to work and having several meetings still counts as one before you say it... But sometimes things just all happen at the same time in the same place and, of course, it's the moment you catch flu (very mild in case you were wondering. I had Swine Flu many years ago and that was seriously not fun, this time I'll live, that time was touch and go) and the cold, dry blue skies of winter change to a bone chilling rain and that's when it happens.

So an old friend flew in last night from Australia (on a business tour from Europe). I haven't seen him since before pandemic (Japan's doors were firmly shut both during and months post the apocalypse). However his three days was shortened to eighteen hours, there or there abouts. So 11.00pm saw me in a taxi to his hotel in a race against the closing of the bar, made it just in time. Four drinks ordered and we made it to around 1.00am with help of some very kind bar staff who didn't complain at all that the lights were out and the place was very firmly shut.

So we'll catch up again this evening for an hour before he heads to the airport, my photoshoot I've deferred from today (under the "three things" rule). I'll meet him at a bar he doesn't know, in a part of town he doesn't know and then catch up with another friend before we head to a concert (Wilco, if you were wondering) and my first friend heads to Narita but has to find his car first. At the same time I'm helping my son work through apartment applications and getting myself up to speed on tonight's show whilst also joining a conference for a school where I help out. But as Ben Johnson once said, "mom, nobody died". 

The Queen concert two weeks ago was pretty awesome though...

Wednesday, February 7, 2024

The Snows of Tokyo

So it snowed in Tokyo this week. It doesn't happen too often as we're protected by the Pacific warmth to the East and the mountains of central Japan to the West absorbing the worst Siberian wether can throw at us. It was a few years ago the last time we saw something and this time was mild, a few centimeters at most in central town. But that never stops wombat drivers going on their daily journey as if it were a dry, sunny day. So watch out when you're walking, most drivers this side of the Alps, simply aren't used to it.

I have a small place in the mountains of central Japan close the ski resort area of Karuizawa where there is ample snow to be had. Last year I took the shinkansen from Tokyo and, at the station, switched to a taxi. Who kindly abandoned me (and my shopping) about 200m from my besso. Next arrived the comedy of errors as I slipped and slid up what is normally a two minute walk. About ten snow angels later (which included the shape of shoppings bags, I made it to the top.

Without my pride it has to be said. Friends were arriving that evening so I got to work on preparing an evening BBQ (I have a gas burner so at minus a lot C it can still light), glad they hadn't seen my pitiful demonstration strolling the slope flat on my back. However, of course, I'd left the evidence of the angels behind. And, of course, they found them all and I was the butt of all jokes for the entire weekend but then it go. Until this week, when they all remembered in the snows of Tokyo and enthusiastically reminded me once again. Still, I like snow. Not sure about some of my friends though... 

Thursday, January 25, 2024

I can vote! Well, not in Japan, but at least finally in the UK...

In 1982 I was too young to vote, you had to be eighteen in the UK. In 1987 I happened to be out of the country so missed that one too. By 1992 I was in Japan and we'd never heard of a postal vote (nor had any ability to sign up for it in the first place). By the time of the Brexit referendum I'd been overseas for more than fifteen years and so was disenfranchised under UK law. And although I've paid all my taxes in Japan (and we're talking a lot) the chances of me ever receiving the right to vote here could be compared to the survival opportunities of a gnat in a rather large volcano (and yes, I know I've used the polite version of the saying).

Until today. The UK rescinded the fifteen year overseas limitation recently and I've just signed up to join the electoral role. I know it's just one vote, which won't make a difference in any shape or form, but it's the principle for me. I can vote!! Might get it wrong but I can actually vote... Too bad I missed the referendum but there is a little bit of schadenfreude coming into play. Am hearing less and less about "it's all about freedom", but too late guys, past history. But I can vote now! Europe is not going to let the Costa Del Sol back in any time soon by the way. 

Now the next issue is a vote in Japan. I know I could change my nationality and have the right to do so, but it would also be a much longer queue at Haneda Airport. And I'm kind of proud of being British (for all out faults) and don't really want to go down that route. Maybe one day Japan will change to allow those who've been here a while, followed the laws (paid taxes as mentioned) but to be honest, the noise you can hear in the background is, proverbially, a certain hot place freezing over. Baby steps, but I can actually vote. And that is worth something as a first corner on the course.