April 28, 2010 - Hong Kong Island, China

What dae ye say aboot Tokyo?

Tokyo is The Coolness. Tokyo is cheese and biscuits. Tokyo shot the sheriff.

Takes a whole 2 and a half hours tae get up there on the train fae Kyoto. We've managed tae procure seats, in the unreserved section, on the left-hand side o the train which means, weather permitting, we should be able tae see Mount Fuji on the way past but, alas, it's too cloudy and we can only see wee rivulets o snow through the clouds half way up it. Disappointing. Pleasant journey nevertheless. So a couple o subway journeys gets us tae Hanzomon where oor hotel is and we find it nae bother. The Grand Arc Hanzomon. Remember the name. If ye are gaun tae Tokyo, stay here. It's a nice hotel, wis reasonably priced and all the hotel rooms look South which means ye have got the most amazing view oot yer windae. Hanzomon is perched right on the West side of the Imperial Gardens which means ye can see part of the Western Moat and doon tae the fancy flashing neon-sign clad buildings of Ginza. Right in front o ye is the National Theatre of Japan, the Supreme Court, the National Diet Library and the dome of the National Diet Building (Japan's Parliament). Beyond that is the Eiffel-tower-esque Tokyo Tower. Noo...all this looks great in the daylight but when the lights come on at night...good could sit and look oot the windae for hours. In fact, that's pretty much what we dae the first night as it's cauld and raining ootside. We do make a brief venture oot intae the wild weather, however, with the sole intention of procuring a bottle o vodka. Oor wanderings take us intae a flashy area called Akasaka wi hunders o restaurants and bars and neon lights everywhere. We figure we must come here for scran some night. We do find a booze shop finally, though, so pick up a bottle o Skyy Vodka and stomp back tae the hotel where we knock a serious hole in it while watching the Tokyo lights twinkling.

Next morning, it is reasonably sunny so we take a wander across the road tae the Imperial Gardens (in the middle of which is the out-of-bounds Imperial Palace where The Emperor bides and where everything is proceeding as He has forseen...young Skywalker). These are fairly braw and we wander aboot in the sunshine for a couple o hours and hae a wee seat here and there. We come back oot the North Gate and head across the road tae Kitanomaru Gardens so I can pay homage tae the Budokan Arena. The Budokan Arena is, mainly, a concert hall and is where Dylan made arguably his finest live album, Dylan at Budokan, in 1978. It's actually a pretty drab looking building tae be fair. We come oot a gate at the North end o the park intae a whole load o noise and there are vans covered in posters and people howling stuff through megaphones. They sound reasonably pissed off aswell. Unfortunately we've nae idea what they are on aboot but it does feel a wee bit threatening. We then realise we are at the entrance tae the walkway leading tae the Yasukuni Shrine. This is a controversial place as it's the shrine dedicated tae Japan's war dead, including it's WW2 soldiers, many of whom are enshrined here. When Kamikaze pilots were setting off on their missions they would say tae each other....'See you at Yasukuni'. We wander in under a huge (iron?) gate and along a tree-lined walkway past a statue o some warrior dude, I forget who, until we come tae the shrine at the end where people are inside praying and paying their respects. Just like any other temple really. Next tae the shrine there is a museum, however, and it is this that seems a little weird. I should say we dinny actually go in tae the place but there's enough ootside it tae gie ye an idea o what the jist of it is. For a start, there is a statue o a Kamikaze pilot. No far fae that there is a plaque wi a picture o a fella called Justice Radha Binod Pal who was an Indian jurist at the Tokyo Trials after the WW2. Pal was one of the few dissenters at the trials and found all defendents not-guilty of war crimes. He afterwards described the tribunal as a "sham employment of legal process for the satisfaction of a thirst for revenge". He published a book aboot it eftir the war which was suppressed by the Americans and still remains unpublished in the US. There is a quote o his on the plaque which reads 'When time shall have softened passion and prejudice, when Reason shall have stripped the mask from misrepresentation, then Justice, holding evenly her scales, will require much of past censure and praise to change places'. Apparently, the museum presents the Pacific War as a war of liberation against Western colonialism and glosses over very obvious war-crimes such as The Rape of Nanking. If nothing else, it certainly presents an alternative view-point. It's all very interesting, actually, though maybe a little sinister. Anyway, we come oot o here, wander a bit along a big, busy road and then discover we are actually a wee bit lost so we stop for a coffee. This disny help us get unlost but gies us a wee boost eftir a morning o walking. We wander a bit further until we finally figure oot where we are and manage tae scramble oor way roond tae the Eastern side o the Imperial Garden moat and so just follow this roond until we can see the Diet building which means we are nearly home. On the way we are passing some cracking big skyscrapers and wandering through impeccably manicured parks and gardens as the sun is setting. Tokyo is classy folks I'm no kidding.

At night we wander back doon intae Akasaka and plump for an Italian which turns oot tae be tasty and reasonably priced. Mamma Mia! That'll dae it. Busy doon here as it's Saturday night. Man, we'd go for a few beers but most places seem tae be charging, like, 2000 Yen or something tae get in. That's aboot £15. And once yer in it's aboot 6 or 7 quid a drink. We just cannae afford that, I'm afraid, so it's back tae the hotel and intae the vodka and a bit of Sportsound. Man, we ken how tae party.

Sunday and we get up and head oot tae a place called Akihabara, Tokyo's electric city, which is all gadget shops and manga boutiques and other crazy stuff. It's mobbed. We dinny hang aboot. I need tae buy a new flash drive tae back up oor photaes, which is why we are here. We find one nae bother and get oot. Phew. We get back on the train and head tae Tokyo Central. We've discovered that oor rail passes, which are still good for another few days, get us ontae some o the trains for nowt so we are able tae get aboot the place well cheap and easy. We got tickets to ride, baby! Speaking o which - seems every second advert on Japanese TV has a Beatles tune on it. Anyway - I digress - we get the train tae central and loup off and walk doon through Marinouchi which is all big, impressive office buildings and odd statues at the roadsides and then intae Ginza which is all posh shops and busy busy busy. It's wild and lively. We pop intae the Sony building and hae a look at some o their cool stuff like 3D TV, fancy headphones and laptops and cameras. Ye could part wi several thousand pounds pretty swiftly in here nae bother. We wander around for ages until we realise we're starving and fancy chips so a KFC fits the bill. It's dark by this time and theres neon signs and huge TV screens flickering everywhere ye look. I suggest we get back on the train and head roond tae Suidobashi on the main train loop line and hae a look at the funfair and the Tokyo Dome. Disappointingly, the place is fairly empty. I wis expecting the same energy as Ginza. Still it's cool tae wander around and the dome and spokeless big-wheel are cool all lit-up. We figure, tae chill oot, we'll walk home fae here roond the river back tae Ichigawa where we got the train this morning and then fae there it's a ten minute walk back tae Hanzomon. This is a braw peaceful wee walk passing hardly another soul and we is well mellow and walked-oot by the time we get tae bed and sound asleep in nae time.

Weathermen. Flipping useless. We've been keeping an eye on the weather forecasts for roond aboot Mount Fuji for the last few days as we figure, we're gonny have tae go somewhere tae get a proper look at the thing. Problem being, the prognosis isny that good with most websites predicting doom, gloom, cloud and rain. Noo...there are many places ye can go tae tae hae a look at Mount Fuji. It being utterly massive and that. In actual fact, on a braw clear day ye can apparently see it fae Tokyo. Wi the smog in Tokyo that must be, like, once every three hundred years or something. Naw we cannae take a chance on that one so we figure we need tae locate oorsels somewhere close tae it and hope for the best. Oor guidebook says the brawest place tae see the mountain is fae the five lakes region roond one side o it. Unfortunately, it's no too east tae get there, two trains at least, one of which we would need tae pay for. A round trip wid cost us fifty bucks each. Be a bit of a pisser tae spend that, aswell as travel for two hours, and no actually see the thing. On Sunday night and Monday morning I'm looking at 5 different weather websites for the Mount Fuji area and 4 of them are telling me cloudy and rainy while the other one says, reasonably sunny. Dae we take a chance on the reasonably sunny one being right and head for the five lakes? It's a £100 gamble and that's a lot o money for us at this stage o the trip. We strike on a compromise...there is a train station, Shin-Fuji (in Fuji City), in the shadow of the mountain and on the main Tokyo tae Kyoto line meaning we can get there for nothing wi oor passes. If we head there and it's clear, great, we can hae a wander aboot and get some photaes and then back up on the train for nowt. If we get there and it's cloudy...disappointing and a waste of a couple of hours but at least it hasny cost us £100, right? I just cannae quite figure oot why none of the guide-books suggest this. Fuji City must be an alright wee place, surely? Most Japanese cities we've been tae have been alright so far. How bad can it be?

Quick look at a webcam on Monday morning - and ye can clearly see Mount Fuji - makes up oor minds and we head for the train station and jump on the Shinkansen bound for Fuji City. Quality. Seems like we turn a corner near the end of the journey and there she is. Beautiful! Absolutely beautiful, breath-taking, magestic, symmetrical, snow-capped Mount Fuji looming up ahead. Cannae wait tae get off and just sit and look at it. Minutes later we pull intae Fuji City. Coming intae Fuji City, ye pass big factory chimneys belching oot smoke or whatever....hmmm the clues are there. Never mind - oot the train station and we are transfixed by the mountain. Can there be a better looking mountain in the World? I doubt I've seen many mountains right enough but certainly it's the best one I've seen. It actually disny look real shimmering away up there and a wee bit hazy. Anyway there are some signs and things getting in the way o a decent photo o it so we decide tae wander intae town a bit and surely there is a wee park we can sit in and get a braw, unobstructed view of the mountain? Twenty minutes o walking through the ugliest, industrial landscape imaginable and we are starting tae despair. This is why none o the guidebooks suggest coming tae Fuji City tae see the's because Fuji City is a shitehole. How can a town wi such an amazing backdrop be so desperately depressing? They really should just knock it doon and start again. Seriously, it's grim. We do eventually find a wee park and thankfully it's surrounded by trees so ye cannae see the rest o the town. Downside is, ye cannae see the mountain properly either. Nevertheless, it's nice and sunny and warm (cloudy and rainy said the weathermen!) and so we sit doon on the grass and just gaze up at the top o the mountain and contemplate eternity. Well, actually, I go on a bit of a rant aboot weathermen. Still, I'm sure there's as much Zen in a venomous diatribe as there is in spell of blissful quietude. Man...they are all quacks and shamen. If they had got it right and said...definitely sunny...we would have coughed up the cash and spent the day at the five lakes which would have been so much better than this post-apocalyptic wasteland. Ach. Anyway...we got tae see it and it wis braw. We head oot the park and start wandering the streets looking for a decent place tae have lunch - which just takes us deeper intae the heart of darkness and nae closer tae a decent scran. Mos Burger - a Japanese McDonalds really - that's what we end up having and then it's a hike-and-a-half along the Styx through Hades until we get back tae the train station and can get the hell ooto here. Dinny ever go tae Fuji City, folks. It's awful. Mad thing the time we get back on the train....the clouds have rolled in and ye cannae see Mount Fuji at all. At all! David Copperfield wid be proud o that one. The incredible disappearing mountain. the weathermen were half-right.

Back in Tokyo and we jump on the free trains and head tae a place called Shinjuku which has some impressive big buildings and, notably, the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building which is forty-odd storeys high and ye can get up tae the top o for free and get a guid aerial view o Tokyo. Mad looking Gotham City type building is the TMGB but we do get up it for free and what a braw view it is up there. Jings, man, I thought Osaka wis a sprawling metropolis. Take a look at this place! Fae up there it looks like the whole world is one giant city. Back doon and we catch another train tae Shibuya which is mad, mental, busy, bright, noisy Tokyo at it's very best. When ye try tae cross the road there are people crossing fae four different directions and yer all just banging intae each other. It's insane. We wander aroond here for a bit just bathing in the neon and then take a chance on a Thai restaurant, upstairs in some building. As luck would have it, it's very good. We hae a dynamite Thai meal for no much money and so train it back tae Tokyo Central and walk back to Hanzomon all full-bellied, tired and content. Pretty full day this one. Pretty good day, too.

Next day we hae a wee jaunt doon tae Roppongi which has a fairly smart new shopping precinct called Roppongi Hills, in front of which is a 30ft high bronze spider sculpture in front o it. It's raining this morning so we wander aroond the shops - dunno why, we've nae money tae buy owt - and then head roond tae Midtown. Ootside Roppongi Hills, Panasonic are daen a demo of their Viera 3-D TV system and so we end up volunteering for a wee demo. Man, it's well smart the 3-D TV. Golf balls coming right oot the screen at ye. Crazy. Funny that they would name a TV system eftir a French midfielder though. Cannae see the link. Midtown has got some fairly cool buildings including the third tallest building in Tokyo, the Midtown Tower so we meander aboot looking up at these but the rain is getting heavier so we decide tae cut oor losses and just head back tae the hotel and spend the day chilling and watching whatever we can catch on Japanese TV thats in English. Tae be fair, we've got CNN in this hotel so we've been (slightly worriedly) watching the developments wi this volcanic ash cloud and the European airports. We've no been so lucky in other hotels though so we've been watching anything that they put on that we can understand. Some nights we lucked oot and caught a decent film - seen I Am Legend wi Will Smith for instance - but most nights it was bottom o the barrel stuff. We've sat through Daddy Day Care and one or two episodes of Colombo. Actually I'm getting quite intae ma Colombo. We nip oot only briefly tae hae a meal oot the Hong Kong restaurant along the road fae the hotel. Wee warm up for the real thing in a few days time.

Wednesday we go for it big style. Weathermen have said it'll be a braw day so we put oor eggs in their basket and set oor alarms for early o' clock. Reason for this is that we wanty go doon tae the harbour and see the Tokyo Fish Market in Tsukiji which is best appreciated in the morning apparently. It takes aboot an hour tae hike doon there and we've missed the auctions which start at aboot 5am but it is still a fascinating place tae wander aboot, if a wee bit smelly. Just aboot everything that ye can possibly eat that lives in the sea is for sale here. Some o it isny quite deid either. Place is heaving aswell which adds to the appeal...good tae have a wee bit o bustle fae time tae time. We were thinking that we would hae some sushi or sashimi doon here but, man, it's extortionate! It's aboot £15/20 for a wee plate. We just cannae take a chance on spending that amount o money on something we might well be spitting straight back oot. Bit of a pisser....but we have tae skip the sushi experience this time roond. Anyway an hour or two o wandering roond Tsukiji and we come oot and head intae a wee park next door called Hamarikyu Teien which is a pretty pleasant place tae stroll aroond and lets ye chill a bit eftir the fishy frenzy o the market. Fae here, we jump on a wee boat which whisks us up the Sumida River tae a place called Asakusa where we go tae a temple. I ken I said we werny gonny dae any temples in Tokyo but we wanted tae dae the wee boat trip and it is the only thing in Asakusa worth seeing. No for long though. They are building a massive tower up here called the Tokyo Sky Tree which is gonny dwarf all other buildings in Tokyo when it's finished. It's only half built at the moment but already looks pretty massive. Ye'll get some view fae the top o that when it's built. Onyway, fae the temple in Asakusa we loup on the subway and go tae a place called Ueno where there are a few galleries and museums and a wee park wi a boating pond. It's looking like it might rain by this time so we hae a brief meander roond the pond and then head up tae where the museums are. We fancy the Tokyo National Museum which apparently has a great collection of Japanese Art and artefacts but the buggers are wanting £15 tae get in. $15? For a museum? Nae danger. So instead we head intae the National Museum of Western Art and look at some excellent paintings by people that we've actually heard of. European people. Monet and that. And all for a much more acceptable £3. Seriously who charges £15 tae get intae a museum? So back tae the hotel then and we go oot for a curry later on. Mmmm....curry.

Thursday is oor last day and it is cauld and chucking it doon. We dae nothing. Utterly nothing. We even hae oor tea in the hotel. We're knackered anyway - we've knocked the shit oot o this town.

So that wis Tokyo and, indeed, Japan. Off tae Hong Kong the next day and oor last stop.

Last thoughts on Japan? It's the dugs baws. If ye've no been...go. If ye huv been...go back. Great country. Smart.




Imperial Gardens
View fae up the TMGB
Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building
Mural in Shin-Fuji Station
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