Japanese Grand Prix diary
Formula 1 is in the Far East for back-to-back races, with Japan first on the itinerary. skysports.com gives its view from Suzuka.
By Mike Wise. Last Updated: October 9, 2012 11:50am
So Tsu was a little bit quiet was it? Well, Wise-san, we have a contrast for you: a couple of days in Tokyo. Plenty stays open past 9pm here; we were out in the Roppongi district past 3am and the night appeared to be in full swing: humanity from all corners of the Earth looking for the right establishment to suit their tastes - just so long as they're happy with the music loud and the neon even louder. What with the Japanese Grand Prix having taken place about 12 hours earlier, I'm afraid I was wilting by that stage...just too much excitement for one day. I took a taxi back to the hotel for some much-needed sleep, but soon enough it was time to get out there again and see what the place has to offer by day.
With a population of 30-million plus, Tokyo is clearly the sort of city where one could live for years and still find oneself on a voyage of discovery. From that perspective, a deadline of 48 hours is actually liberating: try and see something of interest, or significant, or different. But don't try too hard. The most important thing, surely, is to just enjoy being there. Amongst others, I ended up in the company of Johnny, Ant and Crofty and our expedition turned into one that, I suppose, lived up to the saying 'boys and their toys'.
We started off in an electrical goods store, this one being spread across eight floors and containing all manner of gizmos. Dixons on steroids, I thought. A common perception of Japan is that all the latest gadgetry sees the light of day here long before it does back home. I don't know enough about smartphones or sub-woofers to say whether that's the case but what I do know is that the Japanese like their vintage technology as well. I don't ever recall seeing shops selling what looked like 50-year-old cameras before. And I don't mean second -hand cameras either; these looked like brand-new cameras manufactured to an old design.
Another shop we happened upon sold tiny model trains built to a gauge quite unlike anything Hornby ever managed. They were so precise and detailed, almost delicate. The highlight, though, was the robot shop. It wasn't quite what I had expected, in that C3P0 wasn't waddling about the place saying something like 'This is the last time I listen to you, R2' in a camp Japanese robot voice. Instead the robots came in kit form, much as model planes and cars do. Robot dogs; robot cats; robot mice; robot spiders; robot grasshoppers...you name it, this place seemed to have it all. In fact, there was stuff in there I couldn't name.
Right...the laundry is done and I'm about due an early night. We say sayonara on Wednesday morning and then it's on to Korea for part two of our Far Eastern odyssey.
Like many people of a certain age, my opinions of Japan and its culture were built on a foundation of Clive James' television programmes. There was the celebration of masochistic games shows, of course, but foggy memory also brings recall of a documentary where Clive actually visited the country. He stayed in a capsule hotel and played slot machines in exchange for savoury biscuits. This is my first time in the country and I can already confirm that all of this exists.
Slot machines are everywhere, vending machines also abound, and whilst our hotel is not capsule-sized, it's certainly compact. The bath has seemingly been designed on the proviso that its occupants can contort like Harry Houdini; the notion the room might be considered a 'suite' brings an instant smile to the face. It's more like a ship's cabin. The feeling was similar in the restaurant we went to last night: you wouldn't be able to swing a cat in there. None of this is a criticism; I'm just emphasising that the Japanese live in a different way.
Thanks to Clive, I already knew that. When East meets West head on, the collision creates surroundings that are familiar yet skewed. Familiar brands appear on shop hoardings but they get lost amidst adverts for local wares, all of which appear to have different layouts (cartoon figures feature a lot) and use different colours. Perhaps the eye wanders towards what's different out of curiosity. What's both different and surprising is that Tsu (the city where we're located, about a 45-minute drive south of the track) is so quiet. Even the ATM across the road from the hotel shuts at 9pm. I'd always assumed Japan to be a bustling place where convenience is king? Perhaps that's just the big cities. The bars stay open but it's quite difficult to tell as you can't really see inside them from the street. The open consumption of alcohol is, apparently, frowned upon.
What comes as no surprise, however, is the devotion of Japanese Formula 1 fans. Everyone says that's the case and I gained a little insight on Thursday when I accompanied Johnny to the paddock. One autograph hunter quickly became three and there then followed a steady trickle of devotion which lasted about 10 minutes. Mr Herbert, of course, gladly obliged but the friendliness and politeness on show were striking - a scene that, once again, appeared familiar but had a twist to it. A pleasant one, I'd have to say.