Japan. In my head for so long, expectations and images, informed by films, television, popular culture. The build of excitement as the trip approached.
And then to suddenly be there.
I was sick on the plane, horrible, a combination of disrupted sleep and eating patterns, a headache from watching films on the tiny screen, the cabin too hot. Being served breakfast at the equivalent of midnight. I couldn't eat any of it, but the smell of mirco-waved scrambled egg and floppy sausages was enough to send me running to the toilet. Emerging from the plane to humid heat, then the air-conditioned cool of the airport, and suddenly the headache, the queasy stomach, ceased to matter, because I was here, finally. Finally.
Walking through Ueno Park on the afternoon of our first day to battle the jet lag. A lake covered with lotus plants, pink flowers, giant seed heads. Terrapins and grey carp. A man in a black suit with white polka dots, thick-framed yellow glasses, head all shaved about from a heart-shaped, orange-dyed patch at the front, making balloon animals for the crowd, doing magic tricks, swallowing a long black balloon in full, making a lit cigarette disappear in the palm of his hand. A man in red making an origami creature climb up and down his arms. The tiny, wrinkled old man who came up to us, pointed at M, said 'tall', then proceeded to have a ten minute, pretty one-sided, conversation, which he rounded off by asking to take a photo of M in all his six foot four towering glory.
Japanese television on our first night in an attempt to stay awake beyond 7pm, a gameshow in which a contestant in a studio met various puppies, kittens, a speckled fawn with big eyes and a red bow around its neck, and finally a lion cub, feeding them milk from bottles and occasionally shrieking, to much laughter from the audience. For the first time, but not the last, I felt like Bill Murray, Lost in Translation.
A department store with a food hall in the basement, a fruit section with fruit swaddled in layers of latticed foam then cellophane, as though rare and precious. Prices reflecting this. A pair of perfect peaches, softly blushing, for 1800 yen, about £16, a display of melons, the most expensive for 12000 yen, almost £100. My mind cannot comprehend when you would ever want to buy a single melon for a hundred pounds, but there it is, a tasteful green sphere, packaged with a discrete gold bow, and I can see beauty in it. No crazier than spending £500 on a handbag I suppose, except perhaps the melon's transience. Maybe transience adds to the beauty. Maybe we should all treat fruit, vegetables, with a little more reverence, exquisite, short-lived jewels produced by nature.
I wonder what a hundred pound melon tastes like.
To be continued....