Fancy bars are all well and good if you fancy a, erm, fancy bar. But for real atmosphere, and arguably a taste of real Japan, Tokyo’s seemingly infinite selection of tiny bars and eateries really take some beating.
Even in the ultimate old boys’ club, where nepotism and social standing trump merit and competence, yesterday’s election of Shinzo Abe as president of the opposition LDP — giving him a very good shot at being the next Prime Minister — marks something of a new low for the already closed world of Japanese politics.
Born into a distinguished political dynasty, Abe’s rise through the ranks was inevitable, culminating in him becoming Prime Minister in 2006. A post he then quit after only 12 months of a decidedly undistinguished reign. Such failure, apart from in the world of finance, usually leading to a rapid slide into irrelevance.
But no, and what can be seen as a further sign of Japan’s fall from grace, the hawkish and diplomatically provocative Abe is now well and truly back. For how long, and in ultimately what role, only time will tell, but hopefully what it also signals is the final straw for what has until recently been a distinctly apathetic population.
The size and passion of anti-nuclear demonstrations over the last 18 months have shown an anger and frustration not seen since the sixties. An issue that perhaps importantly isn’t just restricted to the present regime, but all those since the dawn of nuclear power itself.
Now whether that zeal can be maintained, not to mention extended beyond the nuclear issue, remains to be seen. But what is clear is that for younger generations in particular, the veil has been well and truly lifted, and those with their eyes open definitely don’t like what they see.
The popular tourist trap of Asakusa is an interesting area to visit. On the one hand there is the famous Senso-ji Temple, along with all the shops selling tat that go with such places. Basically a fun and somewhat cultural spot to meet friends and take a few photos.
But Asakusa is also surrounded by some of Tokyo’s less well-to-do districts, giving it another, very different dimension. One that some people take note of, and others choose to ignore, but either way it’s always there, on the fringes.
Parks in Tokyo are obviously wonderful places to get away from the concrete, and sometimes the crowds. But for many people they also offer the opportunity to practice something that can’t be done at home — at least not comfortably. Like double bass players in need of some space, not to mention no neighbours. And painters with an equal desire for the former, along with a craving for some lovely, studio-like sunlight.
Japan’s ageing as well as shrinking population will create all manner of economic and societal pressures over the coming years; conditions that will more than likely change the country forever.
But that’s not to say it isn’t happening already — because it is. And it isn’t just restricted to the big issues either, as the shift from young to old, past and future, is often visible in the most common, everyday situations.
A sight that can seem both right, and yet very wrong.
Amidst the noise and confusion that often dominate Tokyo, this Shinto priest seemed to be in another world — even from another world. A man so calm and composed that merely watching him was therapeutic.