Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Y hallo thar Tokyo!

(Kimi Ryokan, Ikebukuro, Tokyo)

Monday, being the last day of worldcon, was a quiet day. With nothing on the program I was interested in, I spent the morning in the laundry, reading one of the anthologies I’d picked up in the dealers room. Laundry is a good excuse to sit and do nothing while travelling.

I can’t remember if I went to the closing ceremony last year. This one seemed strangely convoluted, full of all sorts of handing over of things, awards, more awards, and medical reports. Unfortunately, they didn’t give the name of the man who had been translating into English/Japanese every single ceremony at the con. He did a great job, and deserved a whole lot more recognition than he got. Many thanks, translator-san.

As it was my last day in Yokohama, I made a point of catching the train to Shin-Yokohama and visiting the Ramen Museum. It was my first train trip going more than a couple of stops and across multiple lines, and, wow, seriously, I cannot say enough how good the system is here. It isn’t about punctuality, that’s just the least of it. So much thought has been put into the infrastructure of the stations themselves. For example, most platforms are islands serving a single line, with each side serving opposite directions. Find the colour for the line you want, and then when on the platform, check the huge, enormous signs that give the names of the stations in either direction, and the direction of train travel. I adore this. Melbourne isn’t set up for it to be implemented to any great effect.

The Ramen Museum is a bit misleading in title. It’s more of an amusement park. A 300 yen admission fee is pittance, and there was an English guide book just in the door. It’s small, and set up to look like a 1950’s Japanese village, with old movie posters and old club names. It was great just to walk around and gawk at the set.

Several restaurants are set up around the place, specialising in different forms of ramen. Ticket machines are positioned outside these shops, where you pay for what you want, and then give the ticket to the attendant, and sit down. It was very, very yummy. A good place to go for lunch or dinner, with a funky atmosphere.

(Oh, scrumptious soup noodles! Wait, wait, wait-)

(-the extra close up of scrumptiousness.)

A train trip and hike along the harbour later, and I met up with A in the Yamashita Park, which is a shock of green in amongst all the concrete. We explored Chinatown, which at night is a much more interesting and wonderful and shiny and fascinating place. I’m a sucker for neon lights and paper lanterns. We found a couple of very striking, almost decadent temples, one of which we were allowed to look around in. It must have been a new construction, given the kangaroos carved on the outer wall. I didn’t feel right taking photos of the interior, but I gathered from the idols on display that it was a Taoist temple, as the main idol looked very much like the Jade Emperor. See? Watching Monkey Magic is good for something. (ETA: I just checked on wiki, yep, Taoism it is.)

(Pretty shiny, eh? Sorry about the gump in the foreground there. Don't worry, I smacked her good for ruining my photo.)

(Yes. Ancient Taoist Kangaroos At Work.)

(You know, just how pretty the temple was almost converted me.)

Although we had originally intended to treat ourselves to a good meal, high prices and not entirely comprehensible menus scaled our objective down somewhat, and we ended up picking a chinese restaurant at random. It wasn’t bad, but I’ve had better back home. It was a most satisfying way to spend our last night in Yokohama.

(Cthulhu's wedding cake. Or something.)

Back at the hotel, I packed. And unpacked and packed again. Have I mentioned how much I hate packing? I seem to suck at it, quite phenomenally.

In the morning, it was time to bid Yokohama goodbye, and with my too-heavy-for-my-fat-arse rucksack and A’s too-big-for-her suitcase, we hoped on the metro and instigated our invasion of Tokyo.

Wow. It’s so…Tokyo.

We parted ways to find our respective hotels. I’d actually done the smart thing and planned ahead, finding myself a good map and directions. Ikebukuro is much flashier than I thought it would be, and at the same time, not. The pachinko parlours (a bit like pokies, but with a bit of skill required) give off a distinct sleaze vibe. My ryokan is tucked in a quiet side street, and is great. I have a four tatami mat room, which is simple and clean, yet smells rank. Something has died somewhere unfortunate, I know it.

Having dumped my bag, I braved the metro again, this time for Hibiya. A had mentioned she was going to a performance that night, put on by the Takarazuka Revue. I don’t have an internet connection at the moment, but they’re something of a reaction to the old tradition of men playing the roles of women in theatre, in that they’re an all female troupe, and make a point of specialising in women playing male roles. It intrigued me, so with A’s assistance, I snagged myself a ticket to Valencia Passion/Fantasista. Woo!

After lunch in a very air conditioned restaurant, we went to the Imperial Palace East Gardens, the only section of the Imperial Gardens open to the public. It was free entry, which was good, as it was a lot smaller than I had expected. There were some ancient guard houses lining the path in, and I had a little fangirl squeeeeee moment on noticing that the eaves were graced with the hollyhock crest. Unfortunately, it was quite hot and bloody humid, and I think the past few days of running around like a headless chicken were starting to catch up with me. Even more unfortunately, just as we discovered the interesting section with the prefectural flora garden, and the Japanese garden, it decided to dump down on us. Ah, rainy season. (I saw on the news that there’s a typhoon set to swing up and hit us in the next few days. Yay! My first typhoon!)

Sweaty and rain-drenched isn’t the best way to turn up to a theatre performance. We sat in a café and chattered until we were dry, and it was time for the show. The Takarazuka theatre is only a block or so from Hibiya, which is walking distance from the Imperial Gardens. It was quite a lush interior, with thick carpets and great sweeping staircases and wide chandeliers.

I have to say, the Japanese don’t mess around with time. The show was slated to start at 6:30, and so it did, regardless of whether or not everyone was sitting down.

Valencia Passion rocked.

I was given a plot summary with my ticket, and it was one of those convoluted opera plots of betrayal, revenge, intrigue, hopeless loves, and people in disguise. There are always people in disguise. It was fan-fucking-tastic. Like all opera, understanding the language is entirely optional. Women make hot, hot, hot men. They’re bishuonen! Singing, dancing, bishuonen!

Fantasista wasn’t opera. It went off in an entirely different direction, and was more a gala spectacular with more glitter, sequins, feathers, and flashing lights than you can imagine. It was gaudy and outrageous and glitzy and terribly fun. I think David Bowie would have been right at home in amid all that. I had even less idea of what was going on this time, and it didn’t matter (although at some point I think Fantasista was killed, and resurrected as a pimped out Emperor Palpatine).

What I found most interesting was that, although having women cast in male roles was a statement in itself, the fact that the pieces being performed had females characters playing a distant second fiddle to the male characters was as well. I suppose there’s no point in emphasizing women in male roles if the male roles themselves aren’t worth playing, but it struck an odd note with me.

So, if you’re mildly interested in gender play and theatre, and happen to be in Tokyo, the Takarazuka Revue is hella good.

My feet will never forgive me.

This morning, I was supposed to meet A at the Mitaka station at 9:40. I left the ryokan on time. I got on the train on time. I just happened to pick the train that took the longest route between Ikebukuro and Shinjuku. About 30 minutes longer than I expected. Whoopsie. Lesson learned there. Also, peak hour ever ends on these trains. Never.

When I finally arrived, we took the shuttle bus to the Studio Ghibli Museum. Said bus was not a cat bus, which we both agreed is an atrocity.

It was raining when we arrived, so instead of exploring the outside, we went straight in. It was like following the white rabbit, walking into that building. Suddenly, everything was grand and elegant and straight out of a fairy tale. There were little doors and corridors and tight spiral staircases and nooks and ignoring the exhibits, it was fun, fun building.

But I didn’t ignore the exhibits. They were brilliant. There were a couple of rooms dedicated to the fairy tale of the three bears, with one room set up to be the bears’ kitchen. A huge table with the three chairs, and bowls of porriage to play with. I managed to climb on the baby bear’s chair. The papa bear’s chair was enormous, and I wasn’t game to climb it, especially as in the next room were the bears themselves, about 12 feet tall and with freaky freaky eyes.

There was a fantastic exhibit set up like the studio workshop, full of reference material and every wall plastered with concept art, and matte backgrounds, and story boards for the Studio Ghibli movies. It was another squee moment. They were beautiful sketches. The trail through the room revealed the art process, from initial pencil sketches to animation repeats to painting. A couple of sheets of sketches were covered in what I assume were the equivalent of editorial corrections, and I swear, if I had a manuscript returned to me with that much red pen, I’d just throw it out. They’re perfectionists.

The third exhibit gave examples of various forms of animation throughout history, which was just glorious. The spinning wheel of models with the strobe light was the best example of how little it takes to trick the eye into seeing a momentum different from what is there. Unfortunately, no photos were allowed inside. Use your imagination.

The shop was insane. Someone told me Japanese people are very polite and don’t push. Not when there’s merch to be had!

There is a café at the museum, but it was full, and the line to get in went far too long, so we settled for ice cream before catching the not-cat bus back to the station. I found a 7-11 store there, and tested the new ATMs that supposedly accept international cards, with success. I have no idea what the exchange rate is, but I think I’m okay for money so far.

Next to 7-11 was the first actual supermarket I’ve seen since arriving. Fresh fruit! Fresh fucking ATOMIC fruit. Zoooh my gawd, you have never seen fruit so big. Enormous apples! Gobsmackingly huge plums! Gigantic peaches! It was like everything had been bitten by a radioactive spider that had made them all super. I indulged in some grapes. Nom nom nom.

Back in Shinjuku, we embarked on a quest to exchange our vouchers for rail passes, with success. Something I’ve noticed, that I believe is embedded in the culture here, is presentation. The rail passes themselves are things of spectacular shininess, and worth keeping because of this alone.

A successfully booked herself a berth on the sleeper train to Hiroshima, and we set off on another quest to find the locker where she’d left her luggage, which was a hell of a lot harder. Shinjuku is fucking huge. Even bigger than the atomic fruit, and with more levels and shops and corridors. It took us asking three police officers for directions before our objective was met, and lo! There was luggage. There wasn’t much time left though (this was one of those quests with a time limit, you know, those bastard ones). Straight onto the next train leaving on the Yamanote line for Tokyo station.

I tell you now, it is impossible to say goodbye to a friend on a peak hour train in Tokyo. We settled for waving and yelling before the doors closed.

From there, I hit up Akihabara. I don’t think I should have. I hadn’t eaten a meal all day, had been either standing or walking for hours, was probably dehydrated, but what the hell, I was in the area. Straight out the station I got sucked into Gamers, a store packed full of CDs, DVDs, manga, figures and so on. I, er, spent some monies. Then I realised that all of the above, plus the headache I’d been nursing since waking, were about to make me fall over, so I dived into the first feeding hole I found, and had a meal that I didn’t want. BLT sandwiches have never done it for me, but it was better than the falling-over option.

Back on the train, back to my ryokan, back to my room. I’m showered and my chompers are brushed, and now that I’ve had a couple of hours to relax, I’m going to have an early night. May my feet and head forgive me.


  1. Anonymous17/9/07 11:19

    Like all opera, understanding the language is entirely optional. Women make hot, hot, hot men. They’re bishuonen! Singing, dancing, bishuonen!

    I would just like to express to you how unutterably envious I am. Express... unuttera-

    Well. You know what I mean. :P Envy envy envy. Envy. Mmm. Bishounen. Mmm...

  2. Haha, dude, you have no idea. Hott. Teh Hawt. In the opening song/dance of Valencia Passion, the lead male/lady said "Ole!" in a voice that was just porn on the ears.