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Around the World in 80 Days

Day 51: 14 November

Michael Palin - Around the World in 80 DaysAt twenty to seven in the evening I'm drinking a coffee at the Concorde bar on the top floor of the Hankyu department store, Tokyo. I walked in here about 35 minutes ago, found a selection of clothes I liked, mostly from Italy and England, bought a jacket, a sweater and two pairs of trousers. Both the trousers needed taking up, and the assistant apologised that this might take half an hour! As I was paying my bill they noticed my finger had a small slightly bloody scratch and, within seconds, had produced a Band-Aid and dressed it for me. As I leave the store at seven, clutching my new outfit and dying to replace my embarrassingly creased, stained and travelworn shirts and parrot-pecked trousers, the staff of each department, from Soft Toys to Dental Appliances, gather at the top of their respective escalators to bow. I may look like Worzel Gummidge, but for four floors I'm the Queen.

Both Shanghai and Tokyo have populations of around 12 million, but the difference in the look of the people is enormous. Japan seems to consist of one very affluent middle class, busy and assured of their place in a sophisticated urban technopolis. Shanghai's crowds seem out of another century. Central Tokyo at night is a blaze of light, an eruption of neon, trains rumbling overhead, roads full of cars. But there are no jaywalkers and no black plastic bags. Control is the name of the game here. I take a taxi back to the hotel with my new acqui-sitions. Not only does the back door swing open automatically, it also closes automatically, and like the bullet train you have to move fast or you'll lose something.

Cultural magpies, the Japanese have an ability to replicate with great skill whatever attracts them. So we end up eating Tokyo Irish, in Mother Maguire's beer and steak house.
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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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