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Not all those who wander are lost: Tokyo (Extract of Draft Chapter for book)

The clothes were subtle, stylish and just so Japanese, exactly like I would have expected if I had thought about it. During the week lots of office wear, the men in suits with white shirts, the women in black pencil skirts and white or cream pretty blouses. I noticed that the 7/11s and similar stores sold not just tights and stockings but also ties and men’s white office shirts. On Sunday clothes were a bit different, I saw lots of women in wide leg slightly cropped trousers, mainly black, navy or taupe. I saw two women in smart clinging wool skirts, like soft office wear.

There were lots of smocked blouses with puff sleeves; long smocks like artists smocks; long dresses with dungaree tops in taupe or black, and loose cotton trousers that would be perfect for India. Lots of almost 1940s style print dresses, often brown but sometimes in blue, long, high neck, buttoned. Just above the knee sticky out skirts with net underneath with cute blouses; and longer dresses with circle designs and asymmetrical hems. And one evening I saw a woman dressed up like a doll in a big bright pink lacey dress with laced up bodice.

Because most people I saw were so smartly dressed, I noticed when I saw a man wearing old work trousers and a holey t shirt. The men’s work trousers I saw were made out of thick heavy cotton, and in a wrap around style. I also saw a man dressed Andy Warhol style in high waisted black trousers with a tight black sweater tucked in.

On the Metro I saw young people wearing T shirts with a zip pouch pocket at the front, I wanted one of those but didn’t find one.

I went shopping at UNIQLO. I had actually heard of this when I was in the UK, and then B confirmed that it was good and cheap. It was situated at the top of a mall, within walking distance from my hostel. It was such a neat, orderly and peaceful shopping environment. Wandering around I couldn’t help thinking what my punky teen/twenty something self would have thought of all this… Peaceful simplicity, is what it seemed like to me now. The clothes were functional, conventional and plain, except a few stripes or spots. The colors were moss, navy, black, white, taupe, brown, white, cream, grey.

There were lots of black trousers, t shirts, long sleeved tops, jumpers and a big section of loungewear. As Tokyo was coming into winter it wasn’t easy to find things that were thin enough for India, which would still be hot when I went back. Even so I couldn’t help running my hands longingly over fleece lined hoodies, fake fur snoods and scarves and even fake fur bags and purses. It was ridiculous but the idea of shopping for winter was kind of tempting.

At the changing rooms I was given a hood, made out of thin white material (like the facing material inside collars). This was to put over the head to stop makeup getting on the clothes being tried on, which I thought was a good idea. I bought two tops, smock like with three quarter length sleeves, one navy, one taupe; a pair of wide leg trousers, too hot for India really but fitted so nicely, and a pair of comfy sweat pants, also too thick for India, but Tokyo was cold and I couldn’t resist. When the sun shone it was very hot but when it rained it was cold and at my hostel the ac kept it on the cool side. I had the trousers turned up, they did free one hour alterations, even for clothes at a budget price, and everything done with impeccable customer service.

After Uniqlo I asked at tourist information for directions and went shopping for presents. I found the mall and the shop and managed to buy everything I wanted, and found my way home without looking at a map.

When I was out with B we bought snacks from the mini marts, B showed me what I could eat, rice triangles wrapped in seaweed, little pots of sticky soya beans, and my absolute favourite, tofu rolls, filled with rice and wasabi. I discovered even more in my local shops, miso and tofu salad and cooked chunks of soft pumpkin in pouches which I ate for lunches.

Even including breakfast cake compromises there didn’t seem like there was much to eat; there was enough but not loads to choose from or be tempted by. I did a lot of walking and managed to lose a little weight.

Most of the time in the evening I ate at the same place, on my second day the woman had understood me asking for vegetarian and been really friendly and helpful, showing me the menu cards that had English on and showing me how to choose and put the money in; you had to choose and pay at the front and hand the order ticket to the staff. I always had the same dish, noodles, seaweed, Japanese leeks which were tiny, strong and oniony, in a broth with thick triangular slabs of tofu.

One evening after dinner I went for a walk, past the amazing office buildings, my favourite was a huge glossy white sided building that rose up from the pavement like the side of a ship, and was a landmark for me. After the big office buildings, into the restaurants area, I saw a big multi floored pink building. A pink building! I stopped and stared; I saw a sign, it was a music school.

On the way back I saw a big rat, I’d seen a rat in Bangkok and lots in India and wasn’t afraid, just a little startled when it ran back and forth across the pavement in front of me.

At the end of one of the side streets near the hostel was a tiny pale pink faded apartment at the top of a neutral coloured building. A metal fire escape ran from the top down to the bottom. I changed my mind from the Gaudi mosaic apartment building, I’d live there instead.

I walked to meet B in Shinjuku East Side Square, actually not that far from the Uniqlo but the route was different. Uniqlo had been more or less straight following the Shinjuku gardens, which meant I only had to check the route every now and again, but this involved many little twists and turns which meant I had to hold my tablet and follow the blue dot all the way there. I got the map directions up at the hostel then it carried on working even while I was out and about with no internet.

On my route I saw apartment buildings from a different view, from side roads and little alleys, from down flights of steps, above me the apartment blocks, so many apartments packed neatly in.

It was a sunny day and the sky was blue above the grey and pale fawn buildings. I concentrated on remembering landmarks, a blue bridge, an animal hospital. Further on were smarter buildings, a huge one like a big city office block but it was actually apartments. It looked like the side of a spaceship, dark grey, all these little apartments, so many rows, so many columns, so many deep, I tried to count them but it made my head spin.

At the crossing I got confused, a Japanese man asked me if I needed help. ‘Cross over, turn left, look up, and you’ll see it, big building,’ he said. B had sent me a photo of Shinjuku East Side Square, one of the buildings was white, made of sleek shiny white bricks, which interlocked and overlapped to make gaps and textures, and was instantly recognisable. The man was right, I could see it from where he said, about half way there, and I was able to follow it as I followed the blue dot back into side streets and alleys again.

Down a quiet little street I saw a row of three open umbrellas hung up on the outside wall of a house. Each was a different shade of light pink, it looked like an art installation. The umbrellas and a few bits of laundry hung up on balconies were the only color. Seeing the backs of houses and the little details such as little plants in pots set out on the back doorsteps of houses, it felt like I was seeing real life behind the scenes.

A little further on, down another alleyway, amongst buildings which seemed to all be different shades of cream, I saw some brightly colored delivery crates outside the back of a shop. Red, green and yellow, the only color in that scene.

Shinjuku square, with its big modern buildings outside and shops and cafes inside, was beautifully designed; big circles, small circles, ovals, spirals. In the centre was a teardrop shaped pond. B told me that things are inspired by nature and designed with meaning, so that the pool might be the shape of a raindrop, for example, as well as having a spiritual meaning.

This was the first time I had watched and followed the blue dot the whole time all the way somewhere. I noticed how much it distracted me from being mindful and from noticing things in my environment. I usually have enough to do with noticing, remembering and thinking about things I see, as well as noticing and processing feelings and emotions and maintaining a level of awareness. Following the blue dot really took my attention away, let alone what it would have been like if I’d had a smart phone with notifications, messages etc.

As I had my tablet with me, I thought about taking photographs, but it just felt like another thing to do and think about when I already felt distracted. I could see though that I could really enjoy taking photographs, I do notice little pieces of beauty, but I can’t do everything, or not all at once anyway…

Travel update

In Pushkar until 15 Nov, then overnight bus to Delhi, then Delhi for one night then fly to Nepal for two weeks.

Writing update and Changes to Blog

Writing draft wise, I have now completed Thailand and Tokyo, and am back in India, which feels much easier. Whilst I am settled somewhere easy, I’m going to set aside some time to work on an old unfinished chapter, about our time in Kerala. Although it’s easier and more enjoyable to write about more recent places, Kerala will only get further away and less easy to tackle!

Then I will go back to the beginning, add any corrections or additions already identified, and send each draft chapter to B to read. Of course I am also keeping notes about the present as it unfolds, to return to once the other work is completed.

Thank you so much for indulging me during these past months of me not really doing a blog but just posting draft chapters up every week, often very long. Thank you so very much for reading and commenting, your support and feedback has helped me so much.

For the blog, from next week I will embrace being a blogger and just give myself and the blog free rein to do our own thing.

Thank you very much for reading

See you next week