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Postcard From Tokyo


Tokyo has these guys called Nationalists who want Japan to go back to the ‘old ways’. Ominous. Except you almost never see their faces. They ride around the city in these black loudspeaker vans with heavily blacked-out windows, trailing massive black flags from the back, playing blaring martial music and bellowing things like, presumably, 'Remember Pearl Harbour - weren’t it great!'

But you never get to see the actual people. Almost.

I’m completely lost, as usual. I’m walking down this huge wide street in the middle of Tokyo. Then notice two things. There seem to be an awful lot of cops around, and some of them are looking at me as though I’m a complete geijin idiot. And there’s something going on ahead.

It’s a demonstration march, coming straight towards me - and I’m the only non-Japanese in sight, I might add. Yup, you guessed it. Black flags, blaring martial music. Several thousand of the actual guys, on foot rather than inside vans, many in black uniforms and wearing shades. They’re chanting something, very loudly. My guess? ‘Kill all foreigners (especially thin, chain-smoking English ones -- yeah, kill those suckers twice)!’

Nothing happened to me. I just ducked away down a side street and got completely lost elsewhere.

The point is this, though. If you like to wander around a new city and that city’s Tokyo, you’re going to get lost an awful lot. I could reckon on a minimum of one hour each day I was there. Most street signs, you see, aren’t even in pictograms - they’re in a joined up Japanese script that the Western eye can only interpret as a quick sketch by Jackson Pollock.. The only answer? Take a Buddhist attitude to getting lost there. Accept it. Make the most of it. I went through some great districts, saw street markets and parks and places most tourists never get to see, simply by virtue of not having the first clue where the hell I was.

Those Nationalists believe they know exactly where they’re going. But actually, I pity them. It's often better not to.

These 'Postcards' were written, on request, for an online mag that never saw the light of day ... so I thought 1'd put them online here.


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