Vixen Of The Violin: The Anna Phoebe Column (No. 17)
In the latest instalment of her ongoing Roxy Music adventures, Anna Phoebe travels to Japan and is amazed by their hospitality, politeness… and the toilets! Check out all of Anna’s columns here.
This week I went to Japan. Out of all the Roxy Music dates that were sent out with the summer schedule, this was the one I was most looking forward to.
We all met up at Heathrow Airport, ready for the long-haul flight across the world. My hand luggage was packed with the essentials – books, newspapers, sleeping pills and extra face-cream. Once on board I settled into my seat, pulled on the Virgin purple and lime green socks and checked out the onboard entertainment guide. I watched three films on the way out: The Bad Lieutenant (which was disappointingly boring!), The Blind Side (I cried…), and by far the best of the three, The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, which was gruesome and horrifying but utterly compelling. Although not for the faint-hearted, I recommend it.
After nearly 12 hours of flying we started our descent. The weather was cloudy, grey and misty and the landscape flat and green – it looked really similar to England! The only real difference was how neatly the fields were laid out – perfect and precise rectangles unlike the rolling fields of England. As we approached the ground, I noticed that the trees were also completely different – tall, light green with wispy feathery branches. A little bump and we’d landed.
Standing outside the terminal waiting for our transport, my first impression was how polite everyone is. I was watching porters in grey uniforms loading up luggage (in the most careful and delicate way) into the hold of a bus, and then as it pulled away they both performed the deepest synchronised bows. You don’t see that in Europe! The drive from Narita Airport into Tokyo took FOREVER! It was late morning, but it seemed like heavy rush hour with stop-start traffic all the way. We crossed bridges, drove past the Tokyo Disney Resort and finally saw the skyscrapers of the city ahead of us. After nearly two hours we pulled up to the hotel and stumbled out of the bus.
The Hotel Peninsula was incredible. The rooms were so comfortable with huge beds, huge TV, couches, desks and tables, and big floor to ceiling windows overlooking the city. A huge sliding oak door separated the rooms, with a full-on walk-in dressing room area complete with nail-varnish hand dryer, dressing gowns and kimonos, and an exquisite marble bathroom. The toilet was my favourite bit. Apart from a blissful heated toilet seat, it had about 10 different functions including various angled bidet sprays, a deodorising spray, a massage and ‘oscillating’ function and a dryer. More activities than Disney World! We became well acquainted.
Unfortunately we only really had one full day in Tokyo, so I only got to experience a minute proportion of what the city has to offer. After an exotic ‘Japanese Breakfast’ in the hotel which included tofu, salmon, seaweed and lots of tiny fish, myself and a couple of others took the subway to the Harajuka district, where we spent a good six hours wandering around Harajuka Street and Takeshita Street. It was like a pink Hello Kitty version of London’s Camden Town. The streets were crowded to full capacity, and the shops full of pink clothes, pink hair accessories and pink trinket toys. The streets were mainly filled with girls teetering around in heels and pulled up knee socks, with varying lengths of miniskirts. A lot of them had false eyelashes and coloured eye lenses – apparently it is a new fashion to have eye-widening surgery. I couldn’t stop staring at our waitress when we stopped for iced coffees. She had the hugest blue eyes with long fluttering lashes and looked exactly like a Japanese doe-eyed Anime character.
There were also quite a few Geishas walking around the streets, and also on the subway. I tried taking photos of them, but I always felt a bit rude; you really can’t help but admire the way they are dressed. It must take hours of preparation! From the neatly contoured hair, to the perfect make-up, the kimono with huge bows tied at the back, and then the socks and wooden flip flops which somewhat restrict the movement and force you to walk in a slow almost shuffling manner – you can’t help but stare. You start imagining the mystical life they must lead, and think about how different their world is to yours. And then I saw a geisha in line at a McDonald’s – my romanticised ideas were quickly dashed and I realised that people really are the same everywhere!
The quieter back streets in the Harajuka District reminded me a bit of San Diego. Really individual and low architecture with more high-end boutiques. Endless hair salons and kooky restaurants. One of my favourite shops was a huge stationery one back in the district where the hotel was. Beautifully printed cards, different letter-writing paper, origami trinkets and ornaments, and an endless selection of notepads and address books with beautiful ornate designs. Even if it’s just a couple of postcards, everything which you buy is packed carefully in wrapping paper and feels like an expensive gift.
Actually – Tokyo IS expensive. Even our ‘per diems’ (basically, pocket money to cover food and basic expenses when touring) were given a 50 percent increase for Japan to acknowledge the higher costs of food/beer etc. The back-street noodle bars were a real treat. Our hotel was situated on the equivalent of fifth Avenue in New York, or Bond Street in London.
The main roads were lined with Chanel, Bulgari and Gucci, but turn the corner and suddenly you were overloaded with choice of noodle bars, Sake bars, German beer pubs with Sushi, outdoor cafe style restaurants – all lined up one after the other with people ushering you inside. The choice is overwhelming, and although I have a strict rule not to eat in restaurants which show pictures of the food, I made a 48-hour exception. A lot of the menus were only written in Japanese, so choosing food was dependent on pointing at pictures and hoping for the best. My favourite was a tiny restaurant with a bar that could seat maximum eight people, with five chefs preparing fresh noodles and vegetables. A girl sitting next to us (wearing Minnie Mouse ears) translated the menu and recommended what we should eat. Noodles with sprouts, egg and beef, and a side order of dumplings. Fresh and delicious.
On Saturday we checked out of the hotel and piled into a bus which took us to the main train station. The Japanese fans are very diligent and as well as having met the plane landing in from Tokyo, they seemed to have known exactly what time we would take the train to the festival. They are some of the pushiest and yet utterly polite fans I have ever seen – there was no fanatic screaming but just a silent horde holding Roxy albums, pens and paper jostling in a very quiet manner to get autographs and pictures with Bryan Ferry, Phil Manzanera, Paul Thompson and Andy Mackay. It was quite bizarre!
The train ride out to Fuji Rock Festival took just over an hour. It is actually nowhere near Mount Fuji (the first festival in 1997 was held there, hence the name), but instead, in the Niigata Prefecture along the Sea of Japan. From the train station we drove an hour into the mountains to the Naeba Ski Resort where the festival is held. The scenery is truly stunning – huge green pointy mountains covered in wispy clouds. Just before we went on stage the heavens opened and it poured with torrential rain. Despite the weather, the show went well. The highlight was being joined by Tomoyasu Hotei on the last few songs – his music has been featured in Terry Gilliam’s Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas, Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill and Michael Bay’s Transformers. He was so much fun! However, it did feel strange to think that this five-day trip halfway across the world was all because of these 90 minutes we were on stage, playing in the pouring rain up a mountain. Bizarre!
After the show we gulped champagne and changed out of our sweaty stage outfits and then started the four-hour bus ride down the mountain and across the district to the Marriott airport hotel. Got to bed at about 6am, up at 8am and then settled back for the flight home. Despite complete exhaustion I watched another three movies on the flight home: She’s Out of My League (silly teenage movie), Disappearance Of Alice Creed (actually quite good) and a third one I can’t remember. Arrived at Heathrow exhausted – felt like I’d been away for about two weeks!
Although the toilet facilities in my house can’t compare, I’m glad to be home and sleeping in my own bed for five nights. And that the three-hour Eurostar journey to Belgium this coming weekend seems like a walk in the park!
Right. Enough green tea and sushi. I’m off to find some fish and chips.
Inspiration Track For the Week: Tomoyasu Hotei Battle Without Honor Or Humanity (from Kill Bill Vol. 1)