Lost in translation

Japan – Tokyo at least – is quite a crazy place, with even crazier people. Why do they wear masks quite freely? I’m left wondering if it’s because of illness or a fear of contracting disease. Why are the women obsessed with whitening their skin and using so much mascara with their falsies? Why do the men look naturally pervy? Why that enduring obsession with kawaii, or cuteness?

Clogged with sensorial overloads, neon lights and incessant noise from loud chatter, trains and human buzz, contemporary Japan has left me overwhelmed and quite unexpectedly distraught. Tokyo is better thought of as a conurbation of cities put together – has never been so cramped and camp. It wasn’t too long ago that I quite emphatically laughed at Lost in Translation only to find myself in that very position, sharing quite unwillingly, a kinship borne out of frustration in a city that consists of gibberish, wealth-flaunting, technological zeniths and gadget absurdity. I was quite quickly convinced that I didn’t quite want to spend any more time than necessary “soaking up the atmosphere” as some travellers have encouraged in forums.

Landing quite shakily in the A380 at 7.30am Tokyo time, (that plane’s really just an excuse to fit even more people in a tiny space), I was told quite merrily by the pilots that it was zero degrees outside. After dragging the bags to a small hotel in Ueno by the Keisei Express from Narita International, I realised that the lock and key set on my luggage had given out, and feeling embarrassed, asked for a lock breaker from the reception. Grabbing an unwitting blond man – probably either Russian or French who looked a little like Fabio – who came out of the lift to ask the reception some question, I asked him to break the lock on my luggage.

“Could you please break this lock?” I asked, hurriedly explaining that it was probably damaged in transit before he began to form thoughts of my insanity.

“What?!” Apparently it was quite an unconventional request.

“Do you have the key?”

“Yes, but I tried –”

“Give me that…” Rambo/Hercules grabbed it from me and managed to twist the lock open leaving me gaping in slack-jawed admiration, his aura of heroism soon after dispelled when he sat down and blithely lit a cigarette, presumably recovering from the effort of twisting a small luggage lock open.

“Recommend to buy new lock,” he instructed quite grimly.

I wholly agreed. Yet another task on the errand list: make seat reservations, look at day trips for the next 2 days, look at long socks, sunscreen and to buy a lock. I knew I reached the end of my tether when a toiletries store repetitively blared Billy Joel’s Uptown Girl interspersed with cheery Japanese advertising.



Seeing as the check-in time was at 3pm, I re-packed as quickly as I could, and took off for Shinjuku and the skyscraper district with the Metro’s open day ticket, returning later to Ueno’s bargain hunting strip Okachimachi. As lively as it was, I think I felt the happiest when I spoke to 2 Japanese salespersons with relatively excellent English.

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