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Full Circle

Day 36: Tokyo

Tokyo, Japan 
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Sunday in Tokyo. Worshipping the past.
Michael Palin - Full CircleEvery Sunday they close Yoyogi park to traffic and allow anyone with a guitar and drums, or even just a tape of someone else playing guitar and drums, to come and set up on the roadway beside the 1964 Olympic stadium. The result is a one-and-a-half-mile noise. Sixty or seventy bands all play at once, creating a mighty discordant cacophony totally at odds with the deferential orderliness of Japanese public behaviour.

The key to this uncharacteristic display is disguise. Most of the hundreds of performers in Yoyogi Park are pretending to be someone else. Many of them, far too young to remember that this park had once been a barracks for the American troops who occupied their country until the early fifties, are dressed as American heroes of their parents' era - Marlon Brando, Bill Haley, Buddy Holly and, of course, Elvis. D.A. haircuts and shades abound and black biker jackets sport names like the Tokyo Rockabilly Club. There are boys in winklepicker shoes and girls in bobbysocks and wide skirts jiving to grotesquely over-amplified tapes of Del Shannon and Billy Fury. There are reincarnations of the Sex Pistols and the Beatles. A Japanese Bob Dylan struggles with 'Subterranean Homesick Blues', while next door a Japanese Rob Roy, hair dyed scarlet, is leaping around to a thunderous heavy metal accompaniment. It looks wild but is in fact oddly decorous. The anarchy in Yoyogi Park is as carefully controlled as every other aspect of Japanese life. It's an acceptable way of showing off in a country where showing off is not encouraged.

Trying to find somewhere to recover from the bombardment, Basil and I end up in an unobtrusive little restaurant close to Shibuya station. It turns out to be the only whale restaurant in Tokyo and, although the meat is strictly from the quota they're allowed by law to catch, I'm not entirely comfortable with some of the delicacies. 'Whale's Tongue In Soy Sauce', 'Special Bits Of The Whale Put Together' and 'Upper Jawbone Distilled In Sake' are not for the faint-hearted. Decide on a green salad, but ask for a Greenpeace salad by mistake.

End an eclectic day at the Hot 6 Rocket Club in Roppongi listening to reggae. If Japan has a popular music culture of its own, I haven't found it so far.
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PALIN'S GUIDES

  • Series: Full Circle
  • Day: 36
  • Country/sea: Japan
  • Place: Tokyo
  • Book page no: 61

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