Wednesday, 11 February 2015


A really beautiful February morning and three generations of a normal Japanese family decide to go on a day trip to Tokyo.

There are so many recommendations floating around that it’s difficult to decipher what one really wants from what’s on offer. First stop, Asakusa, where Obaachan can look in to shops that sell things like hand-made aprons and fake leather hand-bags, tourist-magnets and deep fried Japanese sweets.

Red is the predominant colour.

The lanterns are red, walls are red, all the stalls are red; catching the bright sunlight and glimmering off the nodding-pawing cats, and their counterpart key-rings; they adorn both sides of one long traditional street leading up to a great Temple. A marketplace and a left over article from pre-modern Japan. Obaachan remembers it as being the first and only district you could watch movies in Tokyo for a while, until other cinemas got built and stage plays went out of fashion. It used to be glitz (not quite sure about glamour) but now purely a tourist spot playing up to bygone ages of pre-electricity, and yet, its messy historical ardour is charming. Asakusa is finely in tune with our desires for a romantic believable Japan. The family have fun.

A young couple on a date in pink and blue, Him & Her, matching kimonos.

All the young go there to shop and have dates, as it seems mandatory for Japanese couples to have them only in a few orthodox places, and this week in the lead up to Valentine’s Day the embellishments are fervent. It’s a newly built skyscraper called SKYTREE, which is pronounced in Japanese tongue as ‘SkyTsulee’ so I didn’t know it had the connotations of a tree until I read the leaflet.

It’s bewildering that two such different truths can go hand in hand like it does in Japan, everywhere. The SKYTREE is the tallest skyscraper in the world flaunting five lower levels of fashion houses, restaurants and one super-aquarium at least 100m above sea-level (which I’m not sure benefits the fish), and yet the main image for the complex is a tree. Like, a natural tree. They call the shopping levels SoraMachi meaning SkyWalk but you don’t see sky anywhere – there’s a tonne of shops with sales on and random Valentine’s ephemera, like a Valentine’s cardigan or pot-plant. I mean it’s all very cute and nicely laid out but it’s really got nothing to do with forests.

Poor penguins up on the fifth floor above the Tokyo skyline, they’ll never fly and never make it to the Antarctic, but they’ll daily see the shining lights and goings on of this anachronistic city.