Print No. 11

Fujimikaza

Fujimizaka

As anyone who has witnessed my near-obsessive liking for Hokusai’s ‘The Great Wave’ can attest, I consider myself a fan of Japanese ukiyo-e (woodblock prints). This thought struck me yesterday, combining with my realisation that, due to recent weather conditions and tall buildings, I had yet to catch a glimpse of Japan’s famous peak. There is one place within Tokyo where Mt. Fuji could be seen from street level, rather than queuing for a good few hours to mount the Skytree.

I had heard that the view was threatened by building work, despite numerous attempts to protect it by local residents. Thus it was with some trepidation that I set off for Nishi-Nippori and climbed the nearby hill.

A Sketch of the Mitsui Shop in Edo — Hokusai

A Sketch of the Mitsui Shop in Edo — Hokusai

I can hardly claim to be disappointed. I certainly wasn’t expecting the gorgeous clarity portrayed in the original picture, but the fact that the air was clear made no difference whatsoever. Despite having only started a few months ago, the first building to partially cover the mountain had given way to many more, rendering it completely invisible from the famous street.

JKR_7954

As I said, I found this less disappointing than desperately sad. I’ve often admired how well the Japanese manage to incorporate elements of their history into modern design and city planning. A respect for the past is, in my mind, an important attribute, and if nothing else an interesting photographic subject, but it seems even Japan is not infallible in this. The header photo is the current view from the same street. I lingered for about half an hour, and in that time various passers-by slowed their cars or adjusted their walking course to crane their necks and travel the width of the street in order to take in the famous view. All left quietly after a few minutes, some shaking their heads.

My first view of Mt. Fuji

Thus it rises, couched/Fuji-san on a clear day/Obscured by towers

In the end I was able to see some of the mountain by standing in a nearby carpark, which was slightly raised off the ground and lay next to the street. The scene is exquisitely dismal. I left Fujimizaka somewhat embittered.

In Japan and out of my depth

Not if, but when. Turns out, Monday morning probably isn't the best 'when' if one desires excited crowds rather than slightly awkward silence surrounded by stuffed toys

Not if, but when. Turns out, Monday morning probably isn’t the best ‘when’ if one desires excited crowds rather than slightly awkward silence surrounded by stuffed toys

Today I made my first steps out of Koenji, only to discover that there are in fact TWO train systems with two separate maps, one underground and one overground. That clears that mystery up. I was going to register my address at the local government office in Nakano, one stop along. Thankfully the journey was reasonably painless, since I had painstakingly copied out all the station names beforehand. However,

The government office and related procedure was the single most terrifying experience of my trip so far. I resorted to English very quickly indeed, but unfortunately their command of the language was about as good as my Japanese, albeit with a few more specific words. In the end, hand signals and very slow native language speaking sufficed, as it tends to in such situations. After a good half an hour of sheer, knee-shaking terror, I was rewarded for recognising my “yonhyakunanajyurokubango” in amongst all the other “gohyakunanajyugobango”s and “yonhyakunanajyuichibango”s with a copy of my address in genuine Japanese handwriting, written on my Resident Card.

What appeared to be a small local park between Tokyo Station and the British Embassy turned out to be the Imperial Palace and Gardens and an hour and a half’s walk. Thankfully the guard on the gate was helpful enough to let me know that the system had changed recently, and my presence wasn’t necessary if I had already registered at the local office. At least I got some exercise, I suppose.

Another milestone was reached in food terms. No, not my embarrassing display at MacuDonarudo, but my purchase of some actual vegetables and meat, for genuine actual cooking (without an oven, using only a single hob — stir fry has been well suggested), and hopefully yet another step towards survival. Also helpful is Japanese TV. There’s a languages channel, so while Taka-san can practice his “È stato molto bello”, I can whip out my best “とてもよかったです.” Plus, there’s something almost morbid about watching a Japanese dressed as a Frenchman speaking Italian to a German TV presenter, who replies in Japanese.

Learn English in Japanese!

Learn English in Japanese!

Learn Italian in Japanese

Learn Italian in Japanese!

Learn Korean in Japanese!

Learn Korean in Japanese!

Not Quite 24 (Conscious) Hours

Koenji, 15:19:17 26/01/14

My sense of time is still pretty terrible at the moment, perhaps as evidenced by my absolute conviction that I had slept all through Sunday, only to check and find, to my great dismay, that it was still resolutely Saturday. What an embarrassing climb-down. Thankfully I have achieved some scattered sleep, and will hopefully be totally de-zombified tomorrow.

Consciousness and some semblance or orientation achieved, I managed to leave the house for the first time and get some bread and butter from the cheerfully-named Family Mart around the corner.

Finally, some real food!

Finally, some real food!

After this rather modest, but no less enjoyable breakfast, I had a bit of an explore of the city. Even Koenji alone is rather large, and I’ve learnt that it helps to check the kanji for the stop at which one wants to get off BEFORE walking all the way to the station. A milestone for my Japanese came when I managed to pluck up the courage to ask a bookshop owner if they had a copy of Oku no Hosomichi, which took a good half an hour of wandering around trying to find it by myself within the crowded shelves. Baby steps.

During my wanderings back and forth from the house, I met my other housemates. One is from Shanghai and speaks vastly better Japanese than I do, while the other is actually Japanese and speaks English slightly better than my own second language. Looks like I have a lot of catching up to do.

After my high-brow jaunt to a proper bookshop, I thought I should probably buy something I can actually read. Hurrah for furigana-ed manga!

They even wrap it in paper, so you can read of Rock Lee's adventures while the other commuters are none the wiser

They even wrap it in paper, so you can read of Rock Lee’s adventures while the other commuters are none the wiser

Have a look below for a few more photographic observations. All I need to do now is survive the dreaded Dinner-Time-with-Quiet-Japanese-Light-Entertainment-TV-in-the-Background-to-mask-my-distinctly-lacking-language-skills and make it through the night, preferably without waking up every two hours.

A darts bar. Why not?

A darts bar. Why not?

Yet another clue for the Death Note aficionados out there

Yet another clue for the Death Note aficionados out there

He did it!

Image

Fans eagerly await the arrival of ‘Yet Another One’

I type this now in an (as yet) empty house somewhere in the suburbs of Tokyo. Stem those worried tears, for I am alive and (reasonably) well! I’ve been through many slight hardships during my perilous voyage, including sitting two seats away from a very quiet and polite Japanese man, only sleeping an hour in total and repeatedly missing a train stop because I was so involved in (sadly English) conversation with the house manager. Thankfully two flight attendants, one who looked and acted like Matt Lucas with a handlebar moustache and a woman who was so bloody jolly British that she probably wouldn’t have had much objection to the nickname ‘Top Totty’ (the voice in your head is the correct one), provided some comic relief during the hours of insomnia.

This isn’t (yet) a tourist travel blog, rather a record of my life for all you onlookers, but allow me to attempt to express just how enormous Tokyo is. While my simple country life makes this even more shocking, there is nevertheless far less sky than is visible in central Manhattan, and spread across a much wider area. There are also, bizarrely, great nets set up for driving ranges, which reach almost as high as the middling skyscrapers.

All that is really left now is to meet my housemates and try to force the conversation into Japanese whilst simultaneously making friends and finding out what they do for food in this bizarre city.

Adieu

The bags have been packed, the Japanese crammed and a slightly uncomfortable number of tears shed. Indeed, the time has come for me to leave this teeming womb of royal kings (cue Jerusalem) and embark upon the journey which this blog is designed to record.

I was planning a jaunty photo of myself, hunched over a fast-dying laptop and munching on a slightly discounted blueberry muffin, if not only to prove to you readers that you do, indeed have the right blog. Alas, you’ll just have to trust me. Photos of my living circumstances will be posted as soon as I can reasonably excuse myself from my new housemates (whether this will be a simple or arduous task time will tell), so if any of you happen to be on Skype at three o’clock in the morning UK time, by all means give me a ring. Hopefully I will be almost unrecognisable due to my supreme fluency in conversing with my new companions.

The flight leaves in a couple of hours at the time of going to press, so there is still technically time to pull out. However, I suspect my parents would be just as distraught to find me back on their doorstep for another six months as there were to find me leaving it.

Look after yourselves and keep in contact.

Jack