Frequent readers of this blog will know that I am a sucker for gimmicks so, when I espied an Airbnb listing to stay with a karate grand sensei, my fingers were already booking before my brain was consulted. Grand sensei Maezawa lived in Takano, in western Tokyo, a far more residential area than the city-break tourist might perhaps select.
Unfortunately, I have precious few photos of the sensei and his house as he turned out to be a very engaging conversationalist and I spent most of my time discussing the big questions of life with him.
Maezawa-san was a very intriguing character. Married to an Israeli lady and a published author, he was extremely difficult to pigeonhole. So I didn’t bother.
On my first few days in Tokyo, prior to heading south, I had made the acquaintance of a lovely Tokyo-ite, so, on my return, we arranged to meet up to explore Shinjuku Gyoen. This was an epic fail: with neither of us dressed appropriately for the bitterly cold wind, after a short, shivering stroll, we had to seek a the warmth of a 7-11 store (actually a Lawson, but that’s perhaps too Japan-specific) to warm up.
We agreed to meet again, but wearing more clothes and planning less outdoor activity. Odaiba (here is a more thorough blog about activities on offer there by Nano B.) was the chosen destination.
A large artificial island, created in the main as a shopping and entertainment district, Odaiba is accessed by boat or, more commonly, by the Rainbow Bridge, which supports rail, road and pedestrian traffic. Also, not content with their Eiffel Tower replica, the people of Tokyo saw fit to give Odaiba a replica Statue of Liberty (mainly for selfie purposes).
We happened to reach the main mall minutes before the arrival of a famous boy-band: cue hordes of frenzied Japanese schoolgirls waiting to scream and swoon and declare their undying love as soon as the objects of their adulation appeared.
This had the fortunate effect of allowing me to pose uninhibited in front of a Brobdingnagian robot who, I was informed, was kind of a big deal.
Tokyo has always been a place for me of random, spontaneous fun. From crashing private karaoke parties to being gifted a self-recorded music CD by an old man in a sake bar to meeting the “King of Shibuya”. This last occurrence came towards the end of an evening where I had been catching up with a friend from Hong Kong days who now lives in Tokyo.
Some decent red wine to the good and we strolled into Shibuya for a G&T and bumped into Suki, a photographer who had studied for a year in the UK. We were promptly adopted and introduced to his friend who was, as per above, the self-styled “King of Shibuya”. We were taken to a club that looked like King Midas’ antechamber and amusement was had by all.
My final evening in Tokyo was dedicated to trying Sukiyaki with Ayako. This had been recommended to me several times but I had never managed to find a restaurant that specialised in the dish. Sukiyaki is a kind of stock-based hotpot I which one cooks one’s own veg, noodles and meat and then dips them in raw egg. It has the distinction of being sweetened somewhat with sugar. If, of course, you want to add a flourish with your sugar, you could melt candy floss in front of your diners instead…..
Then after a month of weird and wonderful experiences in the land of the setting sun, I set a course for Narita airport and a few days layover in Hong Kong.