Tokyo: Day 8

At the end of the previous post I mentioned that I wouldn’t have a great deal of Internet access for the rest of my trip, and so it proved. I’m writing this and the subsequent posts in the future, but am still using the dates on the posts from when the things actually happened. Sneaky.

On Friday morning, the weather seemed to have improved. It was overcast but there was barely a hint of rain, so I decided to go to Roppongi Hills after checking out of the hotel but leaving my luggage there to pick up later. Strangely, after being in Tokyo for a week, this would be my first time to use the Metro system (all the other lines I had used were Overground-type trains). It was, like all of the other times I’d used transport in the city, very easy to use and I found myself in Roppongi in no time.

I’d read that the station was very close to the Roppongi Hills complex, so was surprised to find myself emerge in a typical bustling Tokyo street, rather than the clean, modern centre I was expecting. It turned out that it was a short walk down the road and, since I had lots of time to spare, I decided to have a little wander around the area. I quickly found myself in a very residential-looking district, feeling a little lost and like I was going too far in the wrong direction when I suddenly came across the The National Art Center, a beautiful rippling curved glass building housing exhibitions of modern art.

I walked back towards Roppongi Hills itself, up an escalator to the courtyard by the entrance to the imposing 54-story skyscraper. I instantly recognised Louise Bourgeois’ giant spider, just like the one that had stood outside Tate Modern, a little reminder of home that perhaps I needed by now. Inside, I bought what the guide books recommended as the best value ticket, allowing me inside the Mori Art Museum which sits at the very top of the building and the Tokyo City View viewing gallery below. I decided not to go for the open-air roof deck, thinking it’d be a step too far for my acrophobia. Stepping into the lift, it was hard to believe it was moving at all as it silently and swiftly took us 50 floors up. The museum was fascinating, featuring a variety of modern art pieces, including many very large installations as well as smaller pieces, including a great Indonesian rock video animated from hundreds of carved pieces of wood, which were all displayed alongside the screen.

I went down to the 52nd floor to enter the viewing gallery and panicked when I realised I couldn’t find my ticket. Luckily, the staff were fantastic and let me through anyway, so I began my slow walk around all 4 sides of the building, looking out at the stunning views of the city from my vantage point near the iconic Tokyo Tower I’d seen so many times in my youth, normally being knocked over by Godzilla or Mothra. Despite my fear of heights, I was mostly fine, perhaps because everything looked too small to be real and I never got the sense I was climbing so high in the lift. Once or twice I pushed myself a little harder and got close up to the windows and looked downwards, which made me suddenly feel dizzy and sick. For most of the time, though, I just sat by the windows and looked out at the city I had completely fallen in love with, seeing for the first time how all the places I had visited connect together, from Odaiba in the bay to “home”, Shinjuku, towards the north. A wave of sadness washed over me as I looked out across the buildings and cars below, realising that I would soon be saying goodbye. The skies were too cloudy to see Mount Fuji that day, but what I did see was just as beautiful.

I made my way to the lift to take me back to the ground floor but before I could get to the exit I found myself walking through, of course, the gift shop. I decided to pick up a set of Yoshitomo Nara postcards for Noriko as a thankyou for looking after me. Still feeling melancholic, I was cheered when I walked behind the building to find the brightly coloured headquarters of TV Asahi.

I made my way back to Shinjuku the same way I had come. As I had some time to kill before meeting up with Noriko, I decided to see if I could walk to Shibuya. It seemed a fairly straightforward route, past the railway tracks to Yoyogi. From there, it would be easy, I thought. And it was – I had managed to get a complete handle of the geography of the area, even walking down streets in Harijuku that I’d never gone down before and knowing where I was going. Yes, I was feeling a little pleased with myself, and I even made it to that traditional gift shop, which was now open, where I picked up a few samurai and tea-based trinkets.

With more time to kill, I also spent some time in a very large Tower Records store. I felt a rush of nostalgia as soon as I walked through the doors, with Tower having closed down its stores in the UK some time ago, and it was great to be able to go from floor to floor, listening to lots of new albums and be in a bustling record store for the first time in a long time.

I was going to meet Noriko at a gig in Shibuya, which I was quite excited about. I try to see bands in London quite often, so I was interested to see if there are any differences with the gig-going experience is like in Tokyo. It was mostly the same sort of dimly-lit room you’d find above a pub in Camden, although we had to go up in a lift to get there (as I’ve travelled to various places around the world I’ve found that we’re the unusual ones in Western Europe for only having high-street shops and restaurants on the ground floor) and I was pleased to find that my ticket included the price of a drink. The line-up was a little unusual, starting with a Frenchman who drummed along to chiptunes, followed by a remarkably good swing/jazz band who I really enjoyed despite not especially liking that genre of music. It was pointed out to me that Japanese musicians are almost always of excellent technical ability, but it was exceptional to find a band that was as charismatic as they were. One major difference between London and Japan, though, is that the room was foggy with cigarette smoke. I’d completely forgotten that this unpleasant smell was the norm in our clubs just a few years ago and was hard to get used to again, but it was in fact Noriko and her friend who first wanted to leave because of it.

So, we returned to Noriko’s home, my first taste of suburban Tokyo, much more sedate than the centre of the city but still with a certain electricity in the air even late at night. I, of course, removed my shoes as soon as I went inside the door and then was introduced to Noriko’s flatmate Aki. We shared some wine and watched a bit of TV before deciding to get some sleep – it’d be a busy day tomorrow.

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