Now we’re getting to the real holiday nitty gritty! Well, actually, this was a low-on-reading holiday, despite basically spending four days just travelling.
You see, as part of our almost-everything-going-wrong outward journey, my Kindle broke. At some point between the third flight and arriving at our hotel, the screen was damaged so that the bottom third or so was just a grey rectangle. Which made it unusable. And I had packed ZERO physical books. So that sucked.
I thought about buying a new Kindle there and then, but I decided to just download the Kindle app onto my phone and look out for a book shop. Which initially seemed really smart, as there were LOADS of book shops in Tokyo. They were everywhere! On our first proper day of holiday we walked a couple of miles from Roppongi to Shibuya and went into at least four book shops, while passing another half a dozen or so. But I quickly learned that even in foreigner-filled Roppongi, the only English-language books were those about learning Japanese. Handy, but not quite what I had in mind.
We’re back from Japan. Hello! I am slowly readjusting to the right timezone, and equally slowly picking out my favourites from the tens of thousands of photos we took. Tokyo is very photogenic. Or maybe I just like having time for photography. Probably both.
There are some specific details of our trip I want to come back to (books! food!), but I thought I would start with my highlights. I don’t think I can rank these in any order, but here are my top five non-food-related Japan experiences.
Our holiday has been full of all the things, but as here in Tokyo it has been 2018 for two whole hours, it’s about time I wish you all a very happy New Year. We were at Shibuya Crossing for the midnight countdown, which is like Tokyo’s equivalent of Times Square. Thousands of us crowded together to watch the giant Coca-Cola-sponsored countdown clock. It was fun, but crazy. Much like Tokyo.
There are already so many things I could tell you about our holiday, but as it’s Boxing Day, for now I’ll tell you all about our Christmas. We were expecting a fairly low-key Christmas, and in most of Japan, indeed much of Tokyo, that would indeed be possible. But there are some neighbourhoods that go all out. At Tokyo Midtown (a giant complex of shops, restaurants, museums, hotels and park) we saw the best Christmas light display I have ever seen – and apparently it’s not the most impressive one in Tokyo. But it is one of the few that is definitely Christmas-themed – others are more for New Year.
Snow Country by Yasunari Kawabata translated from Japanese by Edward G Seidensticker
This is a classic novel about a man who travels from Tokyo to a small hot spring town in the mountains in December. It’s a short book filled with beautiful descriptions of people, scenery and everyday life.
Shimamura’s thoughts and intentions are revealed slowly. The novel opens with him on the train, staring at the reflection in the window of an attractive woman sat near him. Kawabata goes into great detail of the way the reflected image changes in response to the changing light and scenery outside. It’s a mark of the story to follow, this attention to the specifics of small moments.
“It was a stern night landscape. The sound of the freezing of snow over the land seemed to roar deep into the earth. There was no moon. The stars, almost too many of them to be true, came forward so brightly that it was as if they were falling with the swiftness of the void. As the stars came nearer, the sky retreated deeper and deeper into the night colour. The layers of the Border Range, indistinguishable one from another, cast their heaviness at the skirt of the starry sky in a blackness grave and sombre enough to communicate their mass.”
I’ve read some really good books this year. And some mediocre ones. But now is the time to sing the praises of the very best finds of 2017. It’s interesting to see the trends in what I have enjoyed the most.
In reverse order, here are my top five books of those I have read this year.
I bought this book because it had good reviews and is set in Tokyo – and what better way to prepare for a holiday? It’s a strange story, with unusual narrators and perspectives, and I really do feel that it gave me some insights into life in Tokyo.
The story opens with Naoko, a 16-year-old girl, who is sat in a Tokyo cafe directly addressing her reader. She says that she is a time being and that she plans to write for her reader the story of her 104-year-old great grandmother Jiko before she dies.
Nao is confrontational, sarcastic and has a very dark sense of humour. She texts stories to Jiko about dead prostitutes, which is especially odd because Jiko is a Buddhist nun, formerly a feminist anarchist novelist, now living in a temple in the mountains north of Tokyo.
While you’re at it, check out Physics World‘s top 10 books of 2017, revealed today. They’re the top popular-science books that the editors felt would appeal to physicists. I’m keen to read several of them (and I’m not a physicist, even if I do work with a bunch of them!).
Compiling this blog post I realise I’ve read a lot of comics this month. I have to some extent been saving my brain space for learning Japanese before the big trip to Tokyo, which is now three weeks away (eek!).
I am enjoying winter so far – perhaps because it’s been mostly dry. I love a cold, dry day. It’s lovely to be outside in it, but it’s even better to be indoors looking at it! And of course, the long dark nights are a great excuse for curling up on the sofa with a book or TV show.
Giant Days: Volume 4 written by John Allison, illustrated by Max Sarin
I love this series. Room-mates Susan, Daisy and Esther are still battling through their first year of university. This volume opens during the Easter holidays. Esther has decided to drop out, so Susan and Daisy travel to her hometown of Tackleford (the main setting of Allison’s ongoing web series Scary Go Round) to talk her out of it. Hijinks and bonding ensue.
This volume is preoccupied by romance: break-ups, the aftermath of break-ups, the hint of something new. There is a corresponding lack of the surreal weirdness that usually characterises Allison’s work, but the story and in particular the girls’ friendship are so sweet and wonderful that I love it just the same. It’s adorable and it makes me happy.