Category: An English Psycho in Tokyo

Walking to discover the urban soul of Japan’s capital city

#4: Never too late

Although, over the years, as a father I’ve taken my children to theme parks in England and other parts of the world, I’ve never actually been to a Disney resort. So, just two weeks short of my 65th birthday, and with a coupon for a free night at a Hilton Hotel, it was time to put that to rights and to head out to Tokyo Bay on a cool and drizzly evening for a very pleasant night at the Hilton on the Bay. I must confess to being rather apprehensive about my first Disney experience expecting it all to be rather garish and over the top, but my son’s partner who is rather a Disney expert had suggested that DisneySea was probably more suitable for someone of advancing years compared to DisneyWorld.

Not only were we celebrating my own birthday in advance but it was also DisneySea’s 20th Anniversary. The sun was shining and the skies were blue so we had an early start and armed with an all-day passport got in to join in the 20th Anniversary celebrations which were branded as ‘Time to Shine’. And so it was and time to find our way around the venue.

Top of the agenda was to meet the stars, so we oriented ourselves through the centre to do just that. In accordance with Covid protocols were asked not to get too close to Mickey and Minnie; we were wearing masks but they weren’t.  Soon after that they emerged from their protective environment with some of their pals for a jaunt around the waterfront.

‘OOPs’ Indeed!

The culture vulture in me enjoyed the attractions related to popular entertainment and I ‘held on to my potato’ in an exciting ride around Indiana Jones’ Temple of Doom.

A more sedate circuit with Sinbad took me back to watching videos with my kids years ago,

We even went to ‘Infinity and Beyond’ in the Toy Story’s shooting gallery – my wife scored more hits than me but I had a better accuracy rate! No pictures as I was shooting targets rather than photos.

A couple of shows (no photos allowed) with Mickey & friends singing and dancing to the American Big Band Beat sound got us inside for an hour, and then we hit the water with a gondola tour of Venice.

Followed by a trip on a paddle steamer to see the ‘Sea’.

I thoroughly enjoyed my first visit to Tokyo Disney Resort, and it did bring out the big kid in me. However, I’m no stranger to Tokyo Bay as very close by is Kasai Rinkai Koen (Marine Park).  As well as being a popular spot for Tokyoites to visit and to enjoy the oceanfront of Tokyo Bay, and also the venue for the 2020 Tokyo Games’ canoe slalom events, it is a very important area of nature conservation. The Wild Bird Society of Japan (WBSJ), of which I am a member, holds regular gatherings there to observe and enjoy some of the 126 species of birds, including many migratory shore birds and waders which can be seen from the hides and on the ponds and waterfront. Just four years ago, the WBSJ was successful, at COP13 in the United Arab  Emirates, in having Kasai Marine Park designated as the First Ramsar Convention on Wetlands of International Importance Site in Tokyo.  A very proud moment for my Japanese birding friends.

So, this weekend, it’s time to put away the fake Mickey ears and get out my binoculars to enjoy yet another aspect of the rich cultural heritage of Tokyo.

Great egret

#2: ALL THE TWOs: A Call to adventure

Meiji Shrine, Tokyo

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This week marked the start of the Year of the Tiger and yesterday was 2nd February 2022 or 2.2.22. It’s also two years since my post retirement freelance work came to and end mainly as a result of the Corona crisis. When I decided to take early retirement from my main career with the UK Government and to remain in Tokyo, to where I was posted at the time, it had been my intention to divide my time equally between my family home in the British Midlands and my adopted home in Japan. To which a good friend remarked “So, you want the best of both worlds?” But, a regular contract as a business writing trainer and coach meant I spent the greater part of my time here in Japan.

However, reality now starts to kick in as one year from now, I’ll need to return to the UK to qualify for my State Pension when I turn 66. Joseph Campbell talks about a Hero’s Journey and although no hero, I like the structure that he advocates especially when embarking on one of life’s adventures. In his book ‘The Hero with a thousand faces’ he says one of the ways in which an adventure can begin is a ‘blunder’:

A blunder – apparently the merest chance- reveals an unsuspected world, and the individual is drawn into a relationship with forces that are not rightly understood. As Freud has shown, blunders are not the merest chance. They are the result of suppressed desires and conflicts….the blunder may amount to the opening of a destiny.

Hero with a Thousand Faces, Chapter 1.Departure, 1. Call to adventure

/My failure to find any further freelance work could well be described as my blunder leading to my personal destiny, the call to the adventure of living the Albihon (best of England and Japan) lifestyle as well as writing about it. When I need to think, I usually do so best while walking. My final training contract took place on the 19th floor of the imposing Arco Tower building in Tokyo’s Meguro district.

From there we were usually blessed with views of Mt Fuji on the horizon. Whilst climbing Japan’s iconic mountain has long been a challenge I’d love to undertake, it’s not yet the climbing season so that’ll have to wait. A more realistic destination was the woodland area breaking up the suburban sprawl, I used to gaze down on. So yesterday I visited Rinshi no Mori park for the first time. After starting as a Meguro test nursery in 1900, it became Hayashi trial forest park in 1989. Now forest trails, adventure playgrounds, open areas and a pond make this an ideal location for a spot of forest therapy in the heart of the city.

It wasn’t the best season for a park with numerous plum and cherry trees, but it won’t be long until the weather warms up and we can enjoy their respective blossoms.

As well as the practicalities of the adventure ahead, I expect I’ll also be questioning my own beliefs. As it will also be a spiritual journey as well as a physical one yesterday’s walk included a visit to the Ryūsenji (瀧泉寺) also known as the Meguro Fudō (目黒不動, Black-eyed Fudō) Buddhist temple. According to the temple legend, Ryūsen-ji was built in 808 by Ennin to enshrine a statue of Fudō-myōō, while he was on a journey from Shimotsuke province to Mount Hiei.

Keeping my options open (I used to be a diplomat after all!) I then called in at the Otori Shinto Shrine, the history of which involved an emperor taking a rest stop after quelling some eastern barbarians.

Fortunately, this was something I’d never had to do during my previous career. But the thought of it was making me hungry. In Japanese, the character ‘wa’ (和) can mean ‘harmony or peace’ as well as ‘Japan’, and is often used as a prefix to a compound indicating a Japanese version of the word that follows. I’m familiar with its useage meaning Japanese-style, Japanese-clothes and Japanese-food but the following was new to me.

But my mackerel and tomato ‘wawich’ did the job and fuelled me for my walk home along the Meguro River.

Passing through Naka-Meguro the river pathway is lined with a motley collection of shops, galleries and boutiques, old and new, with a real international flavour to them.

Despite being in central Tokyo, I was still able to indulge in my ornithological interest as well.

/An excellent day’s walk which left me physically tired but spiritually refreshed and ready to face the next stage of my own life’s journey. As I got home, a quick glance at my step-count for the day even left me feeling slightly heroic.

Three more than was needed to have achieved ‘All the twos’! I’ve heard the call and I’m ready to respond

English Psycho in Tokyo

Introduction

Part travel, part memoir, part cultural investigation but overall an exploration of the urban soul of Japan’s capital city while delving into my own psyche while walking the streets.

I’ve lived in Tokyo for about 15 years now. But do I really know the city? Probably not. Do I really know the people? Probably not. Do I really know the language? Definitely not. But I have scratched the surface of it all, and now is the time to dive deeper.

Quarantine, exile, solitary confinement, self-isolation. In these difficult days of the corona-virus we’re all being urged to cut ourselves off from human contact to avoid contagion and infecting others but at the same time to preserve our physical and mental health by taking exercise daily. In the UK family and friends were allowed one hour/day, but no such rules were laid down in Tokyo. But with pools and gyms closed during the State of Emergency and jogging while wearing a mask not conducive to free breathing, walking at a leisurely pace seemed like a good alternative.

Why ‘psycho’? Is this some horror story about stalkers? Certainly not. Is it Freudian-style attempt at self-analysis? Possibly. Is it an attempt to join the ranks of some of the great city walker-writers? Probably. Or is it a growing interest in psychogeography? Definitely.

Psychogeography – sometimes described as the ‘science(?) of walking/wandering aimlessly’. Iain Sinclair, one of the greatest modern proponents says that ‘drifting purposefully is recommended’. As such, psychogeography is not about walking with a pre-determined destination.

A flaneur is a composite figure – vagrant, detective, explorer, dandy and stroller – yes within these many and often contradictory roles, his pre-dominant characteristic is the way in which he makes the street his home and this is the basis of his legacy to psychogeography…soon the mental traveller(Ann Tso quoting from Merlin Coverley’s Psychogeography)

In the introduction to ‘Psychogeography and Psychotherapy’, editor Chris Rose says that:

Walking in a psychogeographical sense is not the same as a stroll or a ramble; it is observant, analytic and self- reflective. Psychogeographers find unfamiliar routes… Walking appears to have an effect that is unrelated to energy expenditure or exercise per se, and is often recommended as a treatment for depression’

James Kirkup in his book ‘Tokyo’ said ‘only by walking the streets can one really hope to know a city and its people’. So, during my retirement years, and certainly in the ‘social distancing’ era, I’ve done just that in the hope that I could get to know the soul of Japan’s capital. I’ve discovered parks, rivers, shrines and back-alley cafes and eateries that are not covered in the mainstream tour guides, and met some fascinating people.

And, by blogging about my experiences, I hope to offer to those with an interest in Japan and its capital city a personal insight and reflection on the place I have called my home for the last ten years.