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Around the World in 80 Days

Day 51: 14 November

Michael Palin - Around the World in 80 DaysAt Tokyo station the magazine racks are full of George Bushes with their arms spread out. A Japanese magazine bears the English title Heart Washing. I bend to look more closely and rest my bag which is heavy on my shoulders. I immediately have to pick it up again as a lady on a sweeping machine bears down on me.

Parties of schoolchildren, uniformed and well-behaved, are led through the crowds by teachers holding flags above their heads. The girls are in navy blue with pleated skirts, the boys in what looks like Prussian hussars' uniforms, with black tunics, buttoned high up to the neck. (I later learn these traditional boys' school uniforms are in fact based on Prussian army jackets.)

At the entrance to the park which surrounds Hirohito's Imperial Palace stand serried ranks of silver TV vans, topped with plastic-shrouded broadcast cameras, waiting, like hooded vultures.

I can see trees whose leaves are turning and I'm reminded that, though Tokyo is on the same latitude as Morocco, its climate is closer to that of Manchester and I am back again in a land of four seasons. I can't postpone augmenting my wardrobe any longer and in the spirit of Fogg's instruction to Passepartout - 'we shall purchase on the way' - I sally forth to the department stores. Japanese department stores are an institution, and they take their role in national life very seriously. Apart from offering an enormous range of everything they are also travel agents, concert halls, cinemas and art galleries. Picasso's Acrobat and Young Harlequin has just been bought for 38 million dollars, to be displayed not in the Japanese National Gallery but in the Mitsukoshi department store. Rivals Seibu recently bought a Monet for 10 million.
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PALIN'S GUIDES

  • Series: Around the World in 80 Days
  • Day: 51
  • Date: 14 November
  • Country/sea: Japan
  • Place: Tokyo
  • Book page no: 175

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