"I just couldn't settle in Italy, it was like living in a foreign country."
- Ian Rush
Not to put too fine a point on it, Japan is very different to the West. It's the things you can't quite put your finger on, the subtleties, as well as the obvious things of course. And when all the minor subtleties add up together, well that's quite major and very obviously something new, intriguing and confusing. Often confusing.
First stop of the day is Setagaya Boro-Ichi flea market. It is a 430 year old festival that only happens twice a year and the write up on the Time Out website promises me all kinds of traditional antiques and a feudal procession. Well if there's one thing worth trekking halfway across Tokyo for it is a feudal procession and I make if over there via three trains and a light rail. At the station I meet Leona from Couchsurfing. She's a Californian who is living in Tokyo, teaching English to Japanese businessmen. She's been here several months and already knew some Japanese before arriving.
We take a walk around the market but in truth it is somewhat of a dissappointment. Not so many antiques and far too much of the usual crap you see at a flea market anywhere in the world. I do manage to pick up some wooly gloves, but it is uncomfortably packed and I'm not having a great time in the crowds. I do get to try a hot non alcoholic sake though, which is quite tasty.
The market is HUGE, but every part of it is packed with people. We scout around most of it, but sadly no feudal procession in sight. Perhaps they found a bargain on a watering can or one of those waving cats.
We adjourn to the food area where Leona buys a fish on a stick and I go for the far less adventurous baked sweet potato, which is delicious.
As Leona heads off to a cafe, I decide to go on to the Shimo-Kitazawa district. I've read it is a kind of interesting area to hang out in. It's quite an annoyingly complex route on public transport, but looks about a mile and a half or so to walk, so I go on foot. My Tokyo street map proves invaluable as I walk down side streets and alleys towards where I want to go. Approaching I see the railway station and cross the tracks, but still no sign of anything dynamic, just a sleepy residential neighbourhood. Then I turn the corner and there they are. Everywhere.
Suddenly there is a wave of angular haircuts and oversized glasses. It seems this is the hipster place to be. I duck into a number of clothes stalls, but simply cannot find a hat to fit my head, much to the amusement of the babyfaced, too cool for school shop assistants. Chastened, I retreat to a cafe, picking the one which is playing the best music, I take a seat at the window and read my book in the chilly afternoon sun.
Finally for the day I head over to the Shinjuku area. In truth, I'm getting a bit tired now and it is quite cold, but I have not yet been to this area so I go and check it out. It is the busiest train station in Tokyo and therefore one of the busiest in the world. I walk around the area, which is basically downtown Tokyo and immidietly drawn to a large video arcade. The arcade takes up eight floors, each with a theme. One has the grabby cuddly toy games, another has loads of dancing games, driving games and one for pachinko of course. The top two floors are the ones that blow my mind.
Firstly there is a floor dedicated to electronic horse racing. There are several 'courses' in the room, some just one video screens, the rest with little 3d horse and jockey models on rails. The peoploe playing the electronic horse racing games are really into it! The bets seem quite complicated and people cheer or look disgusted as each electronic horse race reaches its climax. I'm fascinated.
The top floor is the killer though. Gangs of teenage boys in groups of four or five are enthusiasticlly playing electronic darts. There are 12 boards in the room, all of them but one in use. From some of the wayward shots, I would wager that the next world champion is not likely to hail from Japan, and if one of these kids was taking part in the World Championships at Lakeside, the darts might well actually end up in the lake. However, the lack of darts skills is more than made up for by the sheer verve and enthusiasm in which these kids throw their arrows.
As commentator Sid Waddell might say:
"There's only one word for that - magic darts"