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Life in the big smoke

Back from Japan

I’m back in the studio, back from Tokyo and Japan and fourteen days of intense travelling. I’m reading papers online, drinking coffee and trying to ward off the tiredness and jetlag still hiding somewhere in the background. Over the coming weeks I’ll be doing a lot of reporting on the UK general election, some from London, some from elsewhere. When I close my eyes I see a moving landscape, as if I’m looking out of a train window.

I can’t believe we’re back from Japan. That we’ve actually done the trip, it’s over, the memories will turn solid, opinions and anecdotes will start taking shape. I had hoped that I’d be able to keep a journal when we were away, but I couldn’t, there was too much input and too many new experiences to make sense of it all when we were there.

akihabara

Tokyo was a place of blinking lights, massive expressways and loudspeakers shouting at you from every corner. It was techno, man-made, unnatural and jam-packed full of people. It was also a city of quiet neighbourhoods with power lines in a tangle above your head, everyone talking in whispers and children cycling quietly down the narrow streets.

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Sometimes it felt deceptively like London, there were the same brands, a familiar mass-transport system, people moving and living the way city people do. But underneath the surface there was something else. I felt like I was hitting a glass wall, I could observe, but I was never able to immerse myself in the culture. I don’t speak the language, but I also sometimes struggled to read situations and people.

I came away with a head full of questions. On the plane back I read Shutting out the Sun, a book by journalist Michel Zielenziger. It looks at the hikikomori phenomenon – young men and women shutting themselves in their bedrooms for years, isolating themselves from the world. It’s an interesting book, but it’s very critical of Japanese society.

It will take me some time to make sense of the trip and to sort through the hundreds of photographs we took. I’ll write a bit more soon, but first I need to catch up on some sleep.

hakone1

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