Today Martin, Tom, and I headed down to Tokyo Big Site (think Birmingham NEC multiplied by about a billion) in Odaiba to take part in the annual Dezomeshiki (New Year’s Parade of Firemen). We kicked things off by participating in an Earthquake simulator, where I was reassured that if a large earthquake did strike my abode, then I would be an absolute nervous wreck. I would at least try and turn off the gas before diving for cover under my table, which may prove to be quite difficult owing to the fact that it is about 30cm high. The Parade itself was absolutely bloody amazing! After a few speeches, and the parading of seemingly every fire officer in Tokyo, we were treated to acrobats dressed as Edo period firemen performing tricks on ladders; this was in recognition of the heavy reliance upon the ladders, and agile climbers, to fight fires during the Edo period. The acrobatics were followed by a lot of stuff getting blown up, with everyone pitching in to help. There were helicopters; super ambulances; boats that ejected coloured water into the already heavily polluted river; abseiling men without a care for themselves or their families; and my personal favourite, a small remote controlled fire engine, operated by a guy standing directly next to it. The cost of the thing must have been enormous, and any would be arsonists could have had a field day in Tokyo, as the only thing that seemed to have been left behind was any sense of understatement; even the volunteer fire fighters, in their jeans and homemade flags showed up for the ride.
The Dezomeshiki had left me feeling elated, but I was soon to be brought back down to Earth again. This weekend we are taking a trip to Kyoto, and have decided upon the Shinkansen, AKA the Japanese bullet train, as our mode of transport. When I discovered (after some bold attempts at Japanese, that didn’t quite fail as miserably as expected) that the round trip was just over ¥25000 (about £200) I knew why they called it the bullet train, as I felt like I had just been shot. Still the fact that it manages to cover the 515 km rail journey in just over two hours is simply mind blowing; also if you miss the train that you have booked your tickets on, then you can just get on the next one, for no extra charge. Compare this to the time when I asked a women at Network Rail what I could do about my lost ticket, given that I still had the receipt, only to be told that nothing could be done, as ‘You wouldn’t try and get a lost CD back in HMV with just your receipt would you?’, and it becomes very obvious that good service clearly comes at a price.