Tokyo is not normal

Part of the reason I’m able to spend two months travelling around northeastern Japan (with another three or four months next year) is because I work for people who are kind and flexible enough to let me vanish for half a year and work remotely in my free moments while on the road.

To that end, I set Sunday aside for mundane life-maintenance tasks, like acquiring mobile wi-fi and writing up an article, as well as going through my photos and making a start on this blog. With my plans a bit more settled over the next few days, I also took the time to move to a new, slightly cheaper hotel.

I started out at the Apa Hotel near Odori Park, which was convenient for the city centre, but even with being able to carry on working on the road, I can’t be too spendthrift. Seriously, any offers of spare rooms, couches, kitchen floors etc. will be gratefully received as this journey goes on.

Another nagging issue I have with the Apa Hotel is that while the staff were incredibly helpful, finding me a space to park my bicycle away from the prying eyes of thieves and lending me a screwdriver to do some maintenance to my creaky Macbook Pro, the chain does seem to be run by a bit of a fascist. His book, which was on sale at the front desk and which was provided free to all hotel rooms, is titled Japan Pride: A proposal for Revival and a sample of the essay titles contained within are:

The Constitution Should be Revised so Japan Can Have an Independent Army

The Abe Administration has Accomplished Wonderful Things Over the Past Year

Anti-Japanese Media Cannot Break the Press Code Curse

Japan Should Enact a Fundamental Act for States of Emergency to Protect the Nation and Citizens

While some of the essays are phrased in a kinda-sorta reasonable sounding way, the thrust of them is very much towards the extreme right of the already very right-wing LDP’s platform. The owner of the Apa Hotel chain is often dismissed as a bit of a crank or an eccentric, but then so is Donald Trump. Plus I don’t fancy sleeping in a room with a little pamphlet of right wing propaganda squatting in the corner.


My new hotel is a bit out of town, and cycling through Sapporo, seeing the town in daylight for the first time, gave me a bit more of a sense of the place. Step outside Tokyo, and increasingly Japanese cities start to remind me more and more of the UK. The functional but less obsessively manicured roads and pavements, the wider streets and pavements, the more sparser human traffic, the less cramped, more leisurely distribution of shops, residential buildings and industrial estates. The greyness. Again a reminder, Tokyo is not normal.

I remember meeting a musician from London who was visiting Japan, and I mentioned that I was from Bristol. He said that he’d played a show in Bristol recently and remarked that he was surprised at what a dead, empty place it was at night. Now partly that’s just him being in the wrong part of town, but if you’re from London, nearly any other British city is going to look empty and dead at night. If you’re from Tokyo, London looks empty and dead at night. Sapporo is like a normal, large English city, minus the random violence and aggression. It’s also pretty similar in feeling to a lot of Japanese cities. It’s Tokyo that’s weird.

So the area I’m in now, near Kotoni Station, is normal. The houses are all perfectly cube-shaped boxes, there are shopping malls in big, grey buildings, there are five guys having a barbecue on the roof of the Seven Eleven opposite my hotel, and there’s just a regular old Gideon’s Bible in my hotel drawer.Seven Eleven


One thought on “Tokyo is not normal

  1. That rooftop reminds me a bit of the view I had from a hotel in Kyoto. We were around the corner from the station, but easy walking distance. Across from us was a terrace that looked like it had been an outdoor patio restaurant once maybe during the 80’s economc bubble? Anyways some artwork adorned the closed in area and the patio itself had become a kind of “storage” area for plastic totes and weather tight containers. It was kind of sad, but still was fairly well kept and not too neglected.


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