Monday, 29 March 2004

The other side of Japan

So as mentioned in the last post, I was off on a business trip this week, down to Fukuoka on the southern island of Kyushu. The Guru and I have been down to this neck of the woods before, in 1999 I think, when we flew to Fukuoka and went on a bus tour around the whole island (never again, by the way, for a Japanese bus tour - it was an experience that everyone should try once, but never again). Anyway that time I never went into Fukuoka, so it was virgin territory.

Getting to Haneda airport I was able to take the Tokyo Monorail. I thought this would be crap, but it was one of the best things about the whole trip! It runs from Hammamatsucho on Tokyo Bay and sort of follows the bay round to Haneda, which sticks into the Bay around the bottom of Tokyo where it joins Kawasaki. The route is great as it goes through Shimbashi and Tennozu waterfront areas, past OKeibajo, which is bloody great horse racing stadium in the middle of the city, and then down past the industrial/petrochemical bits that make Middlesbrough look like an advertisement for clean air. The best thing is the monorail runs about 20m off the ground so you get this great view of the whole area. It doesn't sound like much, but if you live in Tokyo and you see is grey concrete everywhere you go, it was a real eye-opener to see colours and contours and, well, life. Hmm, waxing lyrical there, better get to a rant.


During one of my visits to BA recently, we discussed the fact that the skies over Japan aren't deregulated like they are over Europe. So where in the UK, fo example, it can work out cheaper to fly from London to Liverpool via Frankfurt than to use the trains, here the same isn't true. No EasyJet or RyanAir to bring the prices down so my return flight to from Tokyo Haneda to Fukuoka cost over 60,000yen - that is 300 quid! This was with ANA with whom, last month, a colleague flew return to the UK for 62,000yen! OK, I wasn't paying so Iwasn't too bothered to be honest, but then this really got me - 300 pound flight and if I wanted a beer on the plane, I had to pay for it! I found this totally shocking. And even worse, when ANA tried to set up a budget style airline called Skymark, no-one used it. Weird, these Japanese. Anyway, I showed my absolute displeasure over the paying-for-a-beer issue by maliciously not buying one. That, I think you'll agree, showed them!


Is a most pleasant and compact little city. So much so that I was rather taken with the place and had a short but nevertheless strong desire to move down there. The nicest thing about it was, I suppose, that it is walkable. Actually thinking about it, this is more a shortcoming of Tokyo, though shortcoming seems the wrong word as, if you are going to walk anywhere, it is more of a longcoming. Anyway it was nice to be in a place where you could walk around the city, where the interesting little side streets held interesting little shops and restaurants and bars and where they still have trees on the pavements which must make the summers a little more bearable. They also have two small emporia that made my stay much more enjoyable. First, on the way back to the hotel was a cracking little yakitori shop that was perfectly placed for me to stop and have a beer with yakitori whilst writing up my notes from the day. There is nothing quite like a really cold beer with some barbequed chicken at the end of a long day. Anyone who bangs on about sushi and sashimi as the height of Japanese cuisine is talking rot, give me beer and yakitori any day. They also served, free of charge, a dish of raw cabbage with the beer. Now this sounds odd, and if you had told me before I would have politely declined. But no, it is a really good little combination, and much healthier than crisps or peanuts. Sounds strange but no, beer, yakitori and raw cabbage - winning combination.

The other place was a little bar just round the corner from the hotel. Normally you take you wallet in your hands when you enter an unknown Japanese pub as it can easily turn out to be a hostess bar, which will charge you anything from a small fortune to a very large one just to sit down, let alone have a beer or, even worse, a bowl of peanuts. Anyway this one looked ok as it had a sign for Abbot's Ale outside. No really, first time I have seen anything like it in Japan (Guiness, Kilkenny and Bass are about the best you can usually get). In the end I only got one opportunity to go in to this place, and the night I was in there was absolutely dead, no-one else at all. But this was great as I got to chat to the bar owner chap. He was really into all things English and was in love with Abbot's Ale, hence being the only place in Japan to regularly stock it. But even thought this chap was into Englishness, he couldn't speak a word and has never been there, so our long chat was conducted all in Japanese, which made me happy, if confused at times. But the best thing was he kept giving me free samples of beer to try! What a nice chap, but I think he was lonely. Anyway I got to try a whole load of beers made by local micro breweries on Kyushu, which was great as it really difficult to find a beer in Japan that isn't made by one of the big 5 breweries. The best one was made by a brewery called Suginoya and recently won first prize at some international beer competition thing. The worst was a strawberry beer that was very similar to cough mixture. So we chatted away and he kept *forcing* me to try all these different beers and we were getting on famously. Then three middle-aged Japanese men came into the bar and, with all these glorious beers on offer, ordered asahi superdry. Oh well, the spell was broken and I wandered back tothe hotel, gently bumping into things as I went. But I really hope this guy and his bar succeed, mainly so I can go back and ask his name.

But that was about it. The work was worky, the people very nice and a good bunch of trainees to boot. The hotel room was small and to say the most, functional. Anyone who has lived or stayed in Japan will know all about breakfasts in hotels here and, rest assured, this one was up to the usual high standards. I don't know what it is about breakfast here, but the Japanese really can't do a 'western' style one and a Japanese style one just seems to be the leftovers from last night. Economical? Yes. Tempting at 7:30 with a hangover...?

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