Thursday, June 10, 2010
TOKYO-TASTIC. Mind boggling and fantastic. Part 1
It's really hard to know where to start when talking about Tokyo. We've just got back from a week in this extreme and confusing city. It is full of contradictions. We stayed in Shibuya, which is like Leicester Square, busy, young, a bit seedy and full of food. And yet Tokyo is actually quite calm at the same time. All the Japanese people we came across were quiet and polite and massively accommodating. It's expensive, and yet what you get for your money is always worth it. An acute sense of design is everywhere. Whether it's the packaging (extensive, to the point that if you leave your parasol in a hotel, they package it for you, lock it up and return it pristine), the signage, each bit or architecture which blows your mind or all the beautiful and extensive tableware. Everything works too. You meet the train and it actually comes. And the rules are stuck to. It seems like a place that functions on a really high level because of just this. People walk on the right side of the underpass and smoke in their designated areas. I loved it.
Each take out eatery, whether a food hall in a department store, or a chain coffee shop does it to the limit. Here is a doughnut shop. They don't just do a few things ok, they do just this, and it is the absolute best. Everything is like this. It really does bend your mind. And because bread is not a massive part of their diet, the sandwiches look more like sushi: they are tiny, and packaged in a tube, with crusts cut off, showing perfect cross sections on the filling. Again, a beauty and an extreme precision reigns over.
Snacks in foreign countries are always exciting, but never more so than in Japan. Partly because we couldn't understand a thing (which meant that we spent pretty much all of our trip, exhausted and confused and reading maps upside down) and partly because their tastes and staples are very different. When abroad I spend a lot of my time worrying that I am not eating enough. Three meals a day is not enough to taste a nation, so I try and ram in as many snacks as I can in between. These little treats seem to me, to show as much about national tastes are the high brow meals. This is a picture of one of our midnight feasts. On the left are some sweet crisps, the texture a bit like Wotsits but dark and chocolaty. They were delicious. Next round up top was an odd sesame flavoured frozen desert that had more in common with a trifle than an ice-cream, with layers of finely sliced sponge, but an almost potato texture. The yogurt drink was ace, but just like ours and the chocolate "Ghana" was very like our unctuous galaxy. So we have more in common than we may realise?
And the games. Kids everywhere go to booths and play computer games and karaoke. It's obsessive and you can stay in these places all night. You see them emerging, knackered and cross eyed, or you see them snoozing in the morning in cafes, totally relaxed because they wont be robbed (you could leave your bag at a table unmanned and it would be there when you returned. Sadly this is not something us Britons can say we share. ) But when you are in these places, you begin to understand why they are addictive. Noisy, bright, anonymous and wierd, they dull your senses and they are genuinely fun.
It's a funny place Tokyo. It hits you in the face, and in a really good way.