The first time I came to Tokyo was in 2004: I was the presenter of a programme on BBC Three called ‘Celebdaq’. We were a weekly live show that spoofed formats like ‘Working Lunch’ or ‘The Money Programme’ by faux-seriously discussing the ups and downs of a ‘celebrity index’ of ‘shares’ that were based on the column inches gained each week by celebrities. Still with me? The biggest performing share at that time was David Beckham. No surprise there. So we decided that I would fly to Japan with a David Beckham lookalike, as DB himself was there for a promotional tour, and turn up at venues where the crowds were expecting him. So far, so joyously profligate with the license fee.
It was my first time in Japan, we were staying at the ‘Lost in Translation’ Park Hyatt and the whole trip was totally nuts. Crowds genuinely fell for it and we had to enlist extra security because hoards of screaming girls were regularly going utterly bananas. There’s actually a picture of part of it online still, even though my entire TV career was pre-social media (thank christ). That’s me on the right, not a particularly unconvincing Libby Potter lookalike.
I then came again only a couple of months later with the BBC, presenting a documentary about Nintendo (the whole thing’s online, amazingly). We stayed a few days in Tokyo, than a few days in the country, then Kyoto, Hawaii, Seattle, Los Angeles… put it this way, it was the sort of budget that would make Blue Planet blush these days (I promised myself I wouldn’t write ‘these days’ like an old gran but I failed).
The picture I took back of Japan was of a place of squeals, off-kilter glamour, stark beauty and bizarre names (Pocari Sweat soda still makes me laugh), cute language (‘Moshi Moshi’ when you answer the phone and ‘Irashaimase’ when you walk into a shop or restaurant) and kitsch fashion. I presumed at least part of this was because of the context that took me there. But thirteen years later, as a mum of four on a road-trip, Tokyo is still all of these things. In fact it’s more of everything than I remembered: more kitsch, more weird, more cute, more fast, more loud, more calm, more glitzy, bigger, sexier, geekier, more annoying, more stilted, more orderly. It’s a complete magic box of a city.
The same as with New York, I imagine it’s like the scream-powered city in Monsters Inc, except this time, the fuel is excitement and adrenaline. The 29 year-old me would be thrilled that I’m back here, living it up in one of the finest cities on earth, but she’d also be pretty horrified that I’ve got four kids in tow and that I didn’t manage to hang onto my job. Without the kids, though, I’d never have experienced Disney with all the Pirates of the Caribbean swearing in Japanese. Or witnessed an octogenarian giving up his seat to my 3 year-old on the tube, gladly, despite protestation.
People are extremely kind and very thoughtful here, in a way that is starkly different to other big cities. You’re not elbowed out the way on the tube, or in shops. People wait for you to leave before trying to get through the door. It’s a culture of decorum & politeness and while that might rankle (endless bowing) it’s a whole load better than the opposite. Tokyo took a piece of my heart in 2004 and I came expecting to take it back. But I’m leaving even more behind. I ❤️ Tokyo.