After a surf at Catherine Bay, a little up the coast north of Sydney, we decided on a few schooners of VB at the Catho Pub, a lovely little bar that came complete with gnarly bikers on their Harleys and a newly wedded couple having their picture taken in the bar. The bride was actually lying on the bar, but my interest in that spectacle waned rapidly on discovering Wonder Boy, a classic coin-op that I’d all but forgotten about.
I spent a lot of time in my teen years escaping to the arcades in Weymouth bay to smoke and play such legendary classics like Wonder Boy, Double Dragon, APB, 1942, Mortal Kombat, Altered Beast, Tiger Road, Street Fighter 2 and many, many others. And it’s in homage of that virtually extinct institution, the Arcade, that I feel compelled to write this.
Memories of smoky interiors, frayed red velvet seats, plastic racing horses “galloping” for your money, dodgy carpets, the sea breeze and a cacophony of electro jingles are pure nostalgia for me. Sure you still get the gambling machines and the cuddly toy crane, but the phalanx of real games cabinets is long gone leaving only bulky simulators. There’s no gameplay anymore. Airports, motorway service stations and cinemas all offer the same crap - a quick rush as the gun rattles in your hand or the car judders off the road. Rubbish.
Computer games are great and all these days, but they’re complex and all-consuming. In my book you can’t beat a cherry joystick, two buttons and a 2D platform. Bring ‘em back I say.
Granted Bondi is full of porsches, prams, posers, fitness freaks and many from London and Brazil, so I can understand why a lot of people screw their face up when you mention it. But you know what? I think it’s great. As far as holding down a city job goes, I can’t see how you can do much better than living in Bondi (or perhaps Manly but we’ve not made it there) and commuting into central Sydney after an early surf or run along the coastline.
And the number of independent businesses on the Bondi Road is heartening: butchers, organic beauticians, fishmongers, health emporiums, seamstresses, chocolatiers, grocers, bakeries, cobblers, art supplies, all offering an outpost for quality. Decent restaurants from across the board (excellent chippie and burrittos). The perfect town centre.
During an aborted camping trip up the coastline north of Sydney (surprisingly few decent camping sites around the Catherine Bay area) we stumbled across this farmer’s market (8am - 1pm. Rain, Hail or Shine!). A little late, the potato man’s trailer was already empty, but we managed to walk away with a kilo of sausage and a bottle of chilli sauce. Close to the sea and with a bunch of old fellas knocking out background music this is an enchanting shopping experience. And more of those small businesses with quality product.
With a focus on the outdoors and healthy living, Australia and its many niche markets is the promised land for people making the brave and admirable move to strike out on their own and purse the dream of their own business. Exactly what is happening right here in our host’s house; the headquarters of The Unexpected Guest.
Living the Dream.
Nosso primeiro dia em Tokyo foi um sábado, o que significa que as crianças já estavam acordadas desde as 6h esperando Toby e eu acordar! Lá pras 9h quando a mãe de Toby já não conseguia mais conter a anciedade deles, podia-se ouvir umas risadinhas pela fresta da porta e ver uns vultos correndo e gritando “eles estão tão diferentes!”. Não que eles lembrem muito de Toby, muito menos de mim, já que a ultima vez que os vi, a mais velha tinha 6 anos e a mais nova tinha acabado de nascer.
Enfim acordamos e foi aquela bagunça! já tinha até esquecido como é uma casa com 4 crianças! Todo lugar que vc olha é caos e tem alguém correndo. O engraçado é que eles todos são muito parecidos, eu pensava que só as crianças japonesas eram todas parecidas, mas de alguma forma eles adaptaram essa semelhança numa versão loira!
No caminho até o parque é bem “Cada um por si, Deus por todos!” a mais nova vai lá na frente com o patinete, a outra vai correndo entre as pessoas e os outros dois não faço idéia de como chegaram lá! Morar num lugar seguro é impressionante, aqui as criança andam completamente soltas e sozinhas. Foi só depois que fui saber que o cruzamento de Shibuya (perto da casa do irmão de Toby, o qual atravessamos no caminho ao parque) é o maior cruzamento do mundo! E a pequena Claudia tava lá na frente, cruzando com seu patinete, assim como milhares de estranhos, apressados que nem ela!
The Yasukuni War Museum speaks volumes about Japanese culture. In many ways it is an explanation of the Second World War from Japan’s perspective. There are also a lot of exhibits from pre-WW2 that are fascinating, but the museum still comes off in places as an excuse. There is an emphasis on the fact the Europeans had empires that were growing aggressively into Japan’s backyard. It’s a fair point as you rarely think of events from the other point-of-view. But as you go round there is an uneasy feeling that this account of events is unbalanced - the Rape of Nanking is dealt with as an aside (enemy combatants dressed as civilians), much is made of allied aggression and Japanese ineptitude is usually offered as an explanation for military defeats. Errors in planning, leadership and execution come across as inept, shameful and catastrophic. The glorification of suicide, in particular, left me in a sombre mood on leaving. The impressive main exhibition hall contains a plane, boat, rocket glider and, by far the grimmest, torpedo. All manned, each a refined design of suicide in the delivery death.
Then there is this nationalist march that passed us protesting in support of whaling. We were also in town while the CITES negotiations on imposing a ban on trading blue fin tuna fell through. I confess to ordering a plate of Blue Fin Tuna sashimi to try to understand what all the fuss is about. A fatty mouthful in my opinion. Delicious or not, cross-border trade needs to be banned.
Japanese culture has been well preserved by these attitudes and is unique because the Japanese take such fierce pride in it. I find this weird, interesting and a little disturbing. This city is playful and amazing. This city is dark and brooding.
We arrived in Tokyo with a few must-dos, one of them karaoke. So, after a ten-course meal and copious amounts of sake at By The Sea, my brother led us to Smash Hits, the most famous foreigner-friendly karaoke bar (the Japanese not liking foreigners in their karaoke joints). Smash Hits reminds me of a tiny lecture hall with the tables and the stage. The tome of songs to choose from is intimidating, especially when you’re drunk. I go for “Hard to Say I’m Sorry” by Chicago, a duet of “Echo Beach” (Martha & The Muffins) with my brother and, finally, we drag Maya up on stage for a group “Don’t You Want Me” by The Human League. Such good fun and puts to rest my memories of dying on a stage in Ayia Napa in 1993 while singing “Tracks Of My Tears”.
A pilgrimage to Womb also had to be done. It was Thursday night so only the basement was open, but more than sufficient to get a good taste of clubbing in Japan. I’d always been curious about what the deal is in Japanese clubs. Sophistication and respect of your personal space the norm. People just getting it down in their own area. And a surprisingly upbeat atmosphere to compliment the minimal techno and electro. Womb delivered us to the street at 3:00am and we decided to head for Tsukiji fish market and fulfil a long-held ambition: the freshest sushi after a big night out in Tokyo. We’d been to Tsukiji the day before at midday and encountered a ghost market. Not so at 5:00am. Busy bees everywhere getting to work. The bewildering amount of maritme produce is so fresh that it gives off a sweet aroma. We are very drunk though and so the whole scene plays at high speed as fork-lift scooters zoom around you with their loads of ice and polystyrene. More used to drive-through McDonalds at this hour in SP, this fresh sushi is welcome.
The food in Tokyo is superb, surpassing expectations in all areas. The way that many restaurants specialise in just one dish (tonkatsu, tempura, sushi, gyoza, ramen, etc.) is genius. Keep it simple, keep it quick and quality is assured. The ramen place we found down a little staircase (the huge queue gave it away) was the best example of this - ticket vending machine at the door, then a short wait in line to be led beyond the red curtain to a tiny room with a U-shaped bar dissected into little one-man booths, there to be found a water fountain and another red curtain. Vending machine tickets are pushed under the curtain and exchanged for a steaming bowl of ramen noodles by an anonymous pair of hands. No chit chat, just the sound of the slurping and sucking of noodles.
The converse of this specialist approach were the two meals we had in restaurants that involved at least ten courses, each and every one extraordinarily delicious. Plates of sashimi (urchin not my favourite, chicken just wierd), dumplings, skewers, broths, carpaccios, sizzling meats, a deep fried baguette with ice cream filling (think arctic roll taken to the next level) and so much more that I can’t recall due to drinking between each course. This photo is of us rolling out of By The Sea in Shibuya- the chef takes a poloroid of his happy customers. The second place is called Tayandei in Roppongi on 2-20-1 Nishi Azabu, on a corner of a street, no sign (call 03-3407-8127).
I Love Tokyo. Maya’s T-shirt said as much and I’m in agreement. So much about Japan clicks - the efficiency, the service, the angles, the food, the design, the exposed concrete, the shopping, the value for money, the security. And on. After Brazil, Japan is a revelation.
With six adults and four children living under the same roof for nine days I expected a crush in a classic Tokyo shoe box. Fortunately though, my brother and sister-in-law have a big flat (to fit a big family). Perhaps if we’d been holed up in some cube our impressions of the city would be different. But I doubt it. Tokyo itself is the star of the show.
For Maya this was a homecoming of sorts though outwardly, in typical Japanese fashion, she didn’t appear too bothered that her grandparent’s genes were returning to their origin 90 years on. But she was. I marvel at the thought of these farmers leaving the motherland for a New Life in the New World. And bananas. The empire happy to see them leave as the war machine gathered pace. No war for them. Instead, as many of those elusive bananas as you could imagine and even more fruit that you could not.
For me it was a distinctly family affair as we hadn’t seen my brother and his family for close on three years. One of the hardest things for me while living in Brazil these last years has been living on the other side of the world to half of my family. Catching up with them and reacquainting ourselves with the children gave the Japanese leg of this trip a particularly warm glow (my catching a disgustingly heavy cold for our whole stay a mild dampener). Family and friends are the hole left in many an ex-pat’s life.
But what of the city itself? Where do you start? At immigration, I suppose, like any other foreigner. And there, beckoning you on, is a pokémon style animal (mouse? rabbit?) of impossible cuteness on all the signs and stationary welcoming you to Japan and telling you what to do with its excited straight line gestures and speech bubbles. Cartoons, I discover, put me in the mood to deal with the drudgery of immigrating, though the effect is wasted this time around as the Japanese are so efficient there are no queues and one interacts with a machine (there’s that cute mouse/rabbit thing again) that speaks English to me and Portuguese to Maya. The dude behind the glass is just on passport sticker duty. His face mask the only thing that leaves me slightly uneasy. Perhaps he should be in a cute mouse/rabbit thing costume.
Tokyo is, of course, what you come to expect from all the films, but they seem to miss the sheer quantity of angular, exposed concrete interacting with shrubs, bushes and creepers wherever we went. The clean angles and tight trimming found in stone, cloth and culture alike. Principled design and good workmanship. Even a refreshing bottle of peach & lychee water is interactive.
The shopping, while frustrating (we couldn’t really shop on the road), was on a level I’d not seen before. New York is good and all, but this was something else: Japanese exclusives in the Adidas shop (and others beside); gargantuan UniQlo; the best dance section I’ve ever seen in a music store (Tower); absurdly expensive denim; wonderful BAPE shop; department stores with everything imaginable (literally) in them. Streets and streets of this shit all over the place. And we weren’t even looking for the specialist stores. Just mooching and finding. Note to return with large suitcase and healthy balance.
- Sim, eu preciso de visto pra ir ao Japão. Foi esta a resposta que eu dei pra todas as pessoas que souberam que eu estava indo pra lá. Também achava que bastava meu nome e a minha cara pra entrar lá! Mas a verdade é que antes de tudo eu sou brasileira, e isso não é nada fácil quando se vai entrar num país desenvolvido! É como estar nas portas do céu, não importa se é rico ou pobre, preto, branco ou amarelo, se é tudo brasileiro vai pra fila de "others passports"!
- Por causa do visto, tive que ficar mais 3 dias em São Paulo enquanto Toby já tomava caipirinha com Maki em Itacimirim! Mas tudo bem, tenho que admitir que o consulado do Japão é super eficiente, uma vez reunidas as provas das suas "boas intenções" diante da sua visita, é só entregar e pegar depois de três dias. Eles não te fazem perguntas nem te fazem se sentir um lixo (como o consulado da Austrália e Estados Unidos), é pa-pum, mínimo de contato humano e máximo de eficiência, o que na época eu ainda não sabia, é que isso é exatamente o Japão!
- Já no vôo sente-se o baque de sair das Filipinas e chegar no Japão! As pessoas viajam com malas e não com caixas de papelão, todo mundo sai do corredor quando alguém quer passar (vc não fica esperando a criatura colocar dez bagagens de mão no compartimento, depois desligar o celular, pegar o casaco, etc.). A comida e as embalagens são todas bonitinhas e deliciosa, aproveitei pra tirar a barriga da miséria! Depois da refeição, pedi mais uma garrafinha de vinho branco pra acompanhar um saquinho de abacaxi desidratado que sobrou da minha sobremesa - que delícia, umas das melhores combinações que já provei!
- No som do aeroporto toca uma musiquinha zen de relaxamento, vc vai seguindo o fluxo, ninguém corre e não tem confusão. Pega-se a fila de imigração e simplesmente entrega seu passaporte pro oficial, depois disso a máquina na sua frente faz o serviço, muda o idioma imediatamente de acordo com a nacionalidade do passaporte, dando o passo a passo do que deve ser feito. Depois disso o oficial te devolve o passaporte e faz um gesto abaixando a cabeça, chegando ao clímax do contato entre vc e ele. Aliás, já dar pra captar a mensagem de "sem contato, por favor" logo que vc olha pro sujeito, pois a maioria deles usam máscaras cirúrgicas no rosto.
- Pegamos um onibus que nos deixaria no Hyatt, e de lá pegariamos um taxi, pois o aeroporto é longe da cidade. Não precisa nem dizer que foi o ônibus mais limpo que pegamos em toda a viagem! A corrida de táxi foi tranquila, aliás, tranquilo é o nome do trânsito aqui! Aqui os carros são silênciosos, não tem moto te cortando por todos os lados, ninguém buzina desesperadamente assim que o sinal abre e os ônibus desligam o motor quando param no sinal vermelho. Amei!