Friday, 27 January 2012

PanJapanter - Episode VII: "Shields in Japan" (2nd Jan 2012)

The title of this post has two significances. First, it refers to my many-hair-coloured friend Emily Shields who, after having spent two years in Chile, has come to the opposite end of the anthropological spectrum and set up shop in Saitama, the prefecture just north of Tokyo. She and I go way back, as we both used to play in the same orchestra (me fiddle, she bassoon) and we both used to work – and this is the second Shields – in South Shields Central Library. So there we were: Shields in Japan.
Emily writes an extremely Japanterous blog "Jap-Yah" which you should all read: As she can speak Japanese, her insights are perhaps a little bit more justes than mine.

In the morning, Henry-sama and I said goodbye to Jumpei-sama who was heading whom to see the family. Jumpei was, I’ll reiterate, an exemplary host and a great guy and someone I sincerely hope to be able to welcome to England one day.

We met up with Emily and took a turn in Ueno park. There was a statue of a famous samurai whose fame actually rides on the back of his dog’s famous loyalty. The statue depicts a handsome and strong warrior, but apparently he was lazy and fat.
The park is everything you’d expect from a Japanese park: busy, full of temples, full of vending machines. We had a walk around the lake and had a little bitch about Japanese culture and how exclusionary it is. On our way out we bumped into some of her stunningly attractive (wouldn’t you just know) Scandinavian friends: miaow.

And thence to a meeting with the divine[1]
We picked up Steph-chan (who hadn’t actually left Tokyo yet) and headed over to the Imperial Palace, a great big park at the core of Tokyo. On only one day of the year – yes, the 2nd of January – does the Emperor, formerly known as divine, and whose lineage has sat on the Chrysanthemum throne since before Christ, appear to his mini-flag fluttering subjects. And a few gaijin. We had a bit of a trek through the grounds of the palace to the frankly laughable security checks (the lady opened by chock-full bag, moved my water bottle to one side and waved me through) and then to the balcony within the palace walls. The water bottle was a mistake as there were no toilets around and I had a fifty minute wait until the next “viewing”. The Emperor came with his grandfatherly countenance, gave us a bit of a wave and a “douyagao[2].
The excitement all got a bit much for Steph and she headed back up to Fukushima where she teaches schoolchildren, many of whom were very severely affected by the 2011 earthquake and tsunami.

Emily, Henry-sama and I had Chinese food near Tokyo station. I dumped my baggage in a giraffe-themed locker there, and we went over to Shinjuku to meet up with some of Emily’s friends for a night of imbibition. Tokyo has these cool izakaya (lit: drink alcohol shop) where everything on the menu is around 280 yennies, and you order on a little tablet PC style thing on your table.  

I stayed out until the morning. Many strong feelings surged through me - only partly alcohol induced - about the year to come. Excitement mostly. That’s the trouble with being charmed, once you’re inside eternal fortune, once you have him, you still have to make decisions you don’t want to have to make, and close doors that every bit of your thundering heart urges you to keep ajar. If you can’t, at least take the possibilities in your hands, throw them around and leave them with war wounds. Tick-tock tak-tak sounds the passing of time and the parting of ways, from Jumpei-sama, from the old year, from Tokyo, the life-piled-on-life wonderland, and endless, hopeless, exciting, stimulating possibilities.

[1] Actually, in 1945, the Americans made the current Emperor Akihito’s father Hirohito (known in Japan as the Showa Emperor, Akihito will be the Heisei Emperor) admit to the world that the Imperial family were not in fact divine.
[2] Retelling the story to a couple of teenage boys that I teach, they commented that His Imperial Majesty probably had a douyagao, a slang term for the facial expression that says “yeah, what do you think about that then, ey?”

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