Tokyo Rail

Clean, shiny steel and birdsong soft and sweet. A place full of people, some fast asleep, where could I be?

The Tokyo metro, or one of the Japan Rail (JR) lines in the city. Rail is something of a cultural passion in Japan. It’s a huge part of day to day life in Tokyo; the most convenient way to travel around the huge city.

A microcosm of Japanese values it’s impeccably well managed. Almost always on time and masterfully maintained.

Perhaps the most famous image of Tokyo’s hectic rush hour is the attendants shoving and squeezing people onto already packed trains. Faces can be seen seen squashed against windows and doors. It does happen, but I never take part; I tend to wait out the rush hour in a cafe.

It’s quite a different story in the UK; when our aging underground stations become overcrowded the station attendants will temporary close entry.

A reflection of a prioritisation of efficiency over comfort in Japanese culture. As a Japanese friend commented, “it is very important get to work on time in Japan”.

Other thoughts of Tokyo rail; complex rail maps, female only carriages, cleanliness and modern technology. And less well known; beautiful visual design and ever helpful staff.

An example; the Japan Rail map of Tokyo and the surrounding area at the station in Shibuya – complex and beautiful.

Note the look and feel of the ticket machines. It’s modern, but yet retro. A metallic feel with plenty of prominent buttons and slots. They say to me, “I am proud to be ticket machines”, they don’t attempt streamline themselves into the human world.

It’s not only the ticket machines that feel metallic, trains are finished in polished metal; always very clean. It’s especially noticable at one of Tokyo’s many railway crossings. When you wait on trains to pass you can see the trains are clean from the ground up.

Why so clean? – Japanese people take a lot of pride in their work. I think this is in part the healthy desire to do a good job. And in part it’s the story of a society with strongly enforced cultural values.

Take for example the Japanese word, “Ganbatte” (がんばって) which means roughly “do your best”. You hear this a lot in Japan. For example if someone is preparing for an exam, has an interview, is entering a competition you might say “Ganbatte”. It’s telling in English that we don’t have a word like this and you rarely hear people say “do your best”. When I think about it, we would use, “good luck”. Do we subconsciouly place emphasis on luck vs. hard work? I heard it said that your true nation is your language.

Let’s be frank, trains in UK are disgustingly dirty, if you are on the london underground just touch the outside with a finger – it’ll come away black.

They play birdsong in some of the stations in Tokyo. On one trip I regularly used the Toei Oedo line. I would always enjoy listening to the birdsong in the background. I don’t think I consciously noticed it at first, but at some point I realised it contributed to a joyful and relaxed feeling.

A friend tells me it’s used as a warning sound for blind people. Regardless of the true purpose it has a calming effect.

It reminds me that concrete cities and high technology are not our natural environment. Perhaps we suffer from a build up of background stress from our surroundings. These small touches can bring some peace and make life a little more comfortable.

When trains arrive or depart in Japan you get jingles, tunes and tones. It makes you aware but doesn’t cause any panic or stress. In the UK we get alarms and buzzers. It makes me feel tired.

Have you ever hear of ‘cotton wool Britian’ – we have a love affair with health and safety. Visual and audio warnings are everywhere. Do they reduce accidents – I don’t know, but they certainly contribute to a feeling of constant threat.

Even though Tokyo is a huge modern city packed with people and technology, I feel like it caters to the human need for comfort and relaxation better than many others.

Perhaps the most popular rail line; the Yamanote line. It’s the circular route that you can see in the centre of the rail map. It stops at many famous places. The green colours of the Yamanote trains and the little touches of green on the clocks, ticket machines etc. make a beautiful theme.

Tokyo is a city full of amazing vibrant colours, which really pop in photography.

The Yamanote line is a case in diversity. The stations it stops at include everything from traditional temples to electronic and business districts. A wide variety of people can be found on the platforms and trains; tourists, salary men/lady, school pupils, fashionistas and even Elvis style rockers.

What a strange city. In some ways it could be considered monocultural as Japan still remains relatively closed to foreigners. But within it’s Japanese culture there is a large diversity. Perhaps driven from the need to be different.

I expected Japanese commuters to play Nintendo or Sony or be glued to their mobile phone, but it’s not completely the case. A big surprise was the popularity of books. Tokyo has big bookstores in all the main areas. And even has some cool concept stores such as the Tsutaya at the fashionable Daikanyama.

I started to realise how important literature and poetry is in Japan. I recently discovered one of the most famous concise forms of poetry ‘haiku’ comes from Japan. And only yesterday while finishing the very good book, “strange weather over tokyo” I discovered the following poem:


In loneliness I have drifted this long way, alone.
My torn and shabby robe could not keep out the cold.
And tonight the sky was so clear
it made my heart ache all the more.
– Seihaku Irako

A little of topic, but worth sharing. So a lot’s of people read on the trains. Japan has a slightly smaller format for novels. They look really cute and easily go in your pocket.

Japan is obsessed with cuteness – a topic close to my heart.

Coming into or exiting a station in Tokyo is generally a pleasure. The stations are super clear, they always seem to be staffed by helpful attendants and every station I have been to has a clean toilet! Just the thing when late night asahi and sake are common features.

You can’t escape from the rail in Tokyo, everywhere you look it’s their to see.

Life in Japan can be difficult with long working hours. It’s important the trains are clean and on time. One thing that will amaze any visitor is how quickly and easily japanese people can fall asleep on the train. If you fall asleep on a train here in the UK it’s likely someone is going to steal all your stuff.

Tokyo is very safe. Theft is virtually non existent. You can leave your bicycle unlocked at the park entrances, you can leave you Macbook, phone and wallet unattended in a coffee shop.

The only complaint I have to say is when I’m stranded after 1am, then it’s time to find a late night club, a 24hr restaurant or a manga cafe and wait it out with all the other partiers for the 1st train the next day.

But that’s a small complaint.

Sense Perceptions, Writing201 Poetry ‘Pleasure’

Sensory perception  everywhere,  each
Day I wake with a need to seek,  like an addict,
The sights,  sounds,  taste and touch that tantalise,
High and happy,  I reach for more, and more.

Physical beauty,  let me feast with shallow eyes open you,
Soft skin,  let me lay these greedy hands all over you,
Fruits,  spices,  fish and succulent meats,  let me gorge myself with you,
Fresh flowers,  let your fragrance carry me away.

Suddenly darkness comes,  alone,  I am without you,
Nothing to see or touch, skies became grey above,
Sensory pleasure has abandoned me, betrayed by my reliance,
I’m beyond empty, withdrawal; the pain that remains.

I realise now that unchecked sensory pleasure results in pain,
Instead I stay with the ever present breathe; a simple pleasure that in its essence is me.


the last day of bloggingu writing201 poetry, today we had the prompt word pleasure, using sonnet and apostrophe. I had great intentions to write a perfect sonnet but after two weeks of poetry I’m ran out of steam so this is a rough attempt to something close.

the picture is from shinjuku gardens in tokyo this spring; I thought of it related to touch.

Flavour of a Kiss – Writing201 ‘Flavour’ Poem

Never much liked to kiss, but I found something in the taste of your lips,
delicate and sweet and light,
and yet full of your depth,

Now you are gone, how can I go on?, I can’t even describe my feelings,
fleeting and elusive and subtle,
and beyond words and yet deeply real,

Dream like memories, reality had overwhelmed all my sense,
Days and months and years pass, alone
Now I find I yearn for your kiss


I wrote this poem for day 8 of bloggingU writing201 poetry course. the prompt word was flavour; I decided to stretch away from food towards the taste of a kiss. In reality I guess a kiss doesn’t have a tangible taste exactly, but it carries so much depth of sensation it’s like it does. But personally I found an enjoyable kiss to be a rare and special thing.

The format was elegy, which use elegiac couplets. I actually tried to stick to these but I’m not very good at picking apart stressed vs. unstressed syllables so I doubt I got it write.

The device was enumeration using and / or etc. conjunctions to create lists, which I have tried to do in the shorter pentameter verses.

Picture was taken at a street market in soho london last year.

A Coastal Harbour Town in Scotland


Fishing boats in wait,
Metal clangs, a seagull calls,
But otherwise still,

Fishermen resting
In cottages, a respite,
From the cold hard seas,

Wire mesh, wooden slats,
Lobster pots piled by the side,
Waiting for their bait,

A visitor walks,
Taking photos, fingers numb,
Scotland’s winter coast


These are a few photographs I took in Anstruther; a small former fishing village on the East Coast of Scotland. They were taken last winter, it was super cold and my fingers were numb holding the camera 🙂

Nomadic – Writing 201

Nomadic, that’s my habit,
Never in one place, that’s my taste,
Mario running from a koopa shell,
Never afraid, just need my space,

No static, life is dramatic,
Had a childhood home, but not for so long,
Like a fable, hardly remember the dinner table,
Now, alone like a high flying drone, nowhere to belong,

Nosy neighbours, and small minded drama,
Social welfare, socially they just don’t care,
I wanna fly away; like an angry bird,
Don’t need no neighbourhood, they never treated me fair,

On the move, you know my groove,
Collecting passport stamps, that’s my jam,
Travels beauty, a call of duty,
What you got ‘no hood’? don’t worry that’s my life plan,

“Ain’t no sunshine when your gone”,
^^ Cause I take it with me,
Like zelda searching for my princess,
Never rest that’s my life’s test,

But travel ain’t always rosy or cosy,
I even spent a night in a Russian jail cell,
Wasn’t grand theft auto,
Just some incorrect documents; I don’t dwell,

Sometimes I get lonely,
Without a neighbourhood; social comfort food,
Like I’m questing in world of warcraft, with a staff,
on horseback, with a wizards hood, I don’t mean to be rude,

But I heard, that home is where the heart is,
And my real neighbourhood,
The people close to my heart,


I wrote this poem for wordpress bloggingU writing 201. The idea was to write a ballad. A ballad should be emotionally charged, dramatic and include a larger than life character. I don’t think I really hit those, but I tried to make this poem quite strong and fast at least.

Ballads traditionally use a ABCB structure with 2nd and fourth lines rhyming. I also found that there is a defined meter; they traditionally alternate between 4 met feet / line and 3, so you would have syllable structure 8686. I definitely didn’t meet that, it would take me a lot longer than one day to figure out how to write it that way.

The device we were using was assonance, which is the repetition or pattern of vowal sounds. I played around with trying to get a lot of ‘a’ sounds into the first and second stanza / verse.

The keyword was Neighbourhood. This was kind of difficult as I don’t feel like I have had a neighbourhood for so long. I remember some when I was very young. And to be honest, I remember mostly bullying, gossip, nosiness etc. As I was growing up I also stayed in homeless accomodation with my father and then in welfare kind of accomodation and the people around us were the worst of society. So, I guess I have forsaken neighbourhoods and community in my life to a certain extent; I don’t have any trust there. So this was my theme together with my passion for travelling and moving around. It’s easy to feel jealous of people that travel a lot, but I do miss the cosiness and safety of a home base and if you saw some of the places I have stayed you definitly wouldn’t it romantic.

A Portrait By Love & Sadness – Writing 201 ‘Found Poem’

A story of time,
As seasons pass,
Of dream-like
Love;
A teacher of heartbreak, which breaks hearts, and
Sadness;
Distance from intimacy and intimacy with distance,
With subtlety time paints,
Portraits,

 


I wrote this for wordpress bloggingU writing 201 poetry course day 6. The challenge today was to write a poem based on the prompt word ‘face’, using ‘found poetry’ and including ‘chiasmus’

I decided to use the back cover of a book I am reading right now; strange weather in tokyo, by hiromi kawakami, translated by allison markin powell.

The book itself is beautifully written and reads like poetry to me so far.

It was quite challenging using a restricted set of words. I decided to go with the theme of our portraits showing our experiences in life; think laughter lines, worry lines etc. And I included the idea of love and sadness which I think affect how we look.

The chiasmus were fun to think about, I am not sure how well they work. The first one heartbreak and breaks hearts. The idea being that if we are hurt and have our heart broken we may find it harder to love in future and hence cause heart break in return; not sure if the prose is strong enough to get this across. The distance / intimicy one, I simply fell into having wanted to balance having one for love with one for sadness.

Edit: after the original posting I had to remove ‘by, how and our’ which weren’t on the back cover; i only noticed when adding the second picture.