This is not my first Christmas morning in Japan, and sitting here in the park as I write this certainly beats my 2021 experience in that quarantine hotel.
It was like something out of 1984, I didn’t see or speak to another human face to face for 7 days, a loud speaker mounted to the wall provided regular alerts, warnings, and notifications of when food had been placed on the other side of the door.
The tough part was the hotel room windows didn’t open and we weren’t permitted to venture outside at all. The 8 hour Beatles marathon doc ‘Get Back’ had just been released and that provided some relief but I couldn’t stomach all of it. Fascinating footage though, and helpful to see your hero’s stumbling through the creative process.
It’s 9 degrees and sunny here in the park. I’m sat on a bench and watching Taiga play tennis about 30 foot away with his friends. They’re twin boys the same age as him and have just returned from Malaysia where they attend a school that specialises in Tennis, they’re wearing all the pro tennis gear, brimming with confidence and offering instructions to Taiga on posture and how to serve. He looks a bit non plussed but is playing along.
Last night I stayed up to watch the Wolves beat Chelsea 2-1. Great result and deserved although I felt for Nicolas Jackson whose feet just wouldn’t line up for him and appears to lack self belief. I found the Japanese commentary a bit much so continued editing my next episode of The Glass Age on my laptop as the match played out on the glass of my phone’s screen. Caitlin Rose is this month’s guest on The Glass Age radio show. I first met her back in 2010 when I played the opening set for her show at that lovely studio room at Birmingham Glee. She’s gone on to make 3 fabulous albums and in the show we focus on her latest one ‘Cazimi’ but I also got to share with her how much ‘Everywhere I Go’ means to me. It’s become a personal anthem since Taiga moved to Japan and if you listen to the lyrics you’ll see what I mean. Caitlin was so generous, relaxed, interesting and warm in conversation – check out the episode (out on Tuesday 2nd January) your effort and time listening will leave you feeling rewarded!
Amidst the corporate cacophony and amazon avalanche, hand made gifts light up all on their own. Alice Ellsmore (daughter of glass wizard Alan) kindly created ceramic personalised items for Taiga and I – football for him and rainbows for me aligned with my song ‘Rainbows Never End’. We both love them! Thank you Alice.
Later today I’ll take him to his swimming class. Earlier this morning I spotted a group of nursery children in those cute matching caps I mentioned previously on here. It’s very much business as normal here in Tokyo at Christmas.
Once he’d opened his presents under the tree, Taiga was keen to get on with his homework from school. In the holidays they’re expected to do 2 hours a day from school, and most kids also have on going private tuition work to complete too.
From where I’m sat I can see the supermarket is open, and can hear the construction site in the adjacent block are busy building yet another high rise glass and concrete block. Taiga doesn’t have school today but many of his peers from his football club do, and the only reason he doesn’t is that his school hosted a Saturday day of tuition a few weeks ago.
Two construction workers arrive at the bench next to mine and lay down there hard hats and tools. It’s 11:48 am and they look very much like they’re breaking for lunch. What surprises me is that they lay down their belongings on the park bench, and then casually stroll across the park to the supermarket entrance some 70 ft away. They know they don’t need to worry about leaving their expensive work tool belts and hard hats there on the bench. This feels like the very definition of beauty.
January 1st is a public bank holiday, as is Jan 8th (coming of age day). But that’s it for the festive season. I guess it’s because this is not a Christian country? January 1st is a big deal. It’s the day when families gather and share a special meal, visit a shrine where they make wishes for the new year ahead, and kids get given envelopes of cash from elders. But Christmas day? Forget about it. It’s surface level Christmas and the living embodiment of the corporate Christmas dream. For starters, KFC won the race for ownership of this annual gold mine years ago and the Colonel is now Santa. Regardless of status, social class or religious beliefs, Chicken is the meal of choice on Christmas Day. KFC is so popular that you have to place your order 2/3 weeks in advance to stand any hope of getting any finger-lickin’ delights.
One of my favourite parts of Christmas here are the baby Santas. Everywhere you go you encounter cute little new borns dressed head to toe in red and white Santa-san outfits. I know i’ve mentioned this before on here but it bears repeating. If you’re new parents looking for a heart melting tactic – try this – it really works.
Two nights ago Taiga’s football club hosted a Christmas party. Held in a ‘Rodeo’ themed restaurant (that was actually much better than that as it was basically an Izakaya) in Kawasaki near to the Liverpool Academy training ground, it was a chance for parents and kids to come together, share a meal, stories from the year passed and raise a glass to the next.
Seating wasn’t allocated – we all shared plates at long bench tables but there were some notable formalities observed. Firstly, drinks orders were taken and everyone’s glasses were filled – but nobody took a sip. I scanned the room and amongst the 50 or so congregated kids and adults no one was breaking this convention. Around 10-15 minutes later, the head coach entered, when everyone stood and cheered, raising their glasses as the word “Campai” rang out.
Similarly, at the end of the evening, when the coach stood and called ‘time’ – everyone stood up and left almost immediately.
The best parties i’ve ever performed at were the boat parties on the Thames. I’ve long held the theory that this was due to the synchronised start and end time. It adds a sense of unity that can be hard to generate. Obviously when you’re holding a party on a boat it’s a lot easier to enforce!
The party had an open bar, and after a couple of opening speeches from the football coaches, they stuck the latest Liverpool match up on the big screen, parents were laughing and sharing beers/cocktails, kids were screaming, jumping about and drinking juice/cola. There was no music, but aside from this it was a familiar family party scene.
In addition to the well mannered start a couple of other things popped out as notable to me. It was a set food menu, and there were no vegan or vegetarian options. You paid a flat fee of £30 per person for food and drink. Shared plates were placed in the centre of tables and diners picked what they wanted using chopsticks and placed the food on their own small plate.
There were two servers working tirelessly running between tables, but parents mucked in – carrying pitchers of beer from one table to the next pouring drinks for one another and even venturing into the kitchen to help keep the food flowing. The venue staff were welcoming and trusting of everyone in attendance, despite there being way too many people involved for everyone to know one another personally, and despite us being in the city centre on a Saturday night, with public in the adjacent bar area and several other restaurants in the floors above where we were sat.
My friend Chris texted me the other day saying “did you know Tokyo is the most densely populated city in the world?”
I didn’t, but it makes sense. 38 million live here. I have become increasingly aware in recent weeks of just how many people live, sleep and work here. There are eyes around every corner, bodies at every turn, families sleep on top of one another, sandwiched into high rises like sardines in a can. Maybe this is why they’re so nice to one another. There’s a different perspective here, it’s a humbling experience to live in a place where there’s so many people, each trying to meet their own needs of food and love. Sharing feels more embedded: the lift button holding doors, waiting on the platforms as fellow passengers alight, pouring drinks for others before yourself.
The beer tastes so good, and it helps the conversation flow. I’m not used to drinking these days and get this buzz like “where have you been old friend!” So many nights ping into my mind’s eye, the carbonated fizz of red stripe at Area 51 two decades ago (my student union), the sickly sweet juice of blue WKD with Rachel in Sheffield’s pubs, pints in plastic glasses as bands take to the stage, warm cans at Reading and Glastonbury. What was it all for? Where did it go?
It’s OK Dan. We were present and living life, squeezing moments of joy out of weeks of anxiety riddled youths spent working shit jobs as we reached for crimps on the climbing wall of independence with our fleshy beginners fingers not yet used to the grip.
Back in the room, the head coach has come to join our table. He plays host, entertaining all the mom’s with stories about their kids habits and traits – he’s passionate about his work and this helps him to engage with the parents with ease. He sits with us for a good half and hour or more before moving onto the next table, working the room and being present with everyone. Top job.
Later on we’re joined by his assistant, a handsome 25 year old who is a little quieter, his shy demeanour and chiselled looks making him an instant hit with the mother’s at my table. He shares a story of his recent break up with his girlfriend which meets universal “aww” and the coo-ing continues as the women seem determined to match make him in 2024, asking what his preferred ‘type’ is.
Walking back to the station, we pass a homeless man flat out on the pavement, sleeping bag wrapped up tightly at his forehead and interestingly, his shoes are placed neatly on the thin piece of concrete that lines the adjacent stairwell like a skirting board.
The following morning it’s Christmas eve and this marks the final football training day the year. Chatting to one of the other Dad’s he’s licking his lips at the prospect of Christmas cake and I whole heartedly agree. However, he can speak good English which allows us to get into some detail here which reveals we have a very different idea of what Christmas Cake comprises. Japanese christmas cake is a light chiffon based strawberry thing, white and fluffy. What I’m yearning for is the kind of thick mass of fruit/nuts/marzipan that my mother would start prepping sometime around my birthday in September! I show him some pics on google, to which he says: “that looks like bread!”
Thanks for reading and commenting on this blog. Last week I disclosed a little about my visa situation and expressed how I was a little anxious awaiting the trip to the immigration center on Friday 22nd. Pleased to say that all went smoothly and I’ve been granted an extension to remain here at my son’s side for a little while longer. I’ll be back in England in April when the gigs and workshops start up again, and in the meantime I’m planning to continue my radio shows on Brum Radio, an online songwriting workshop in Feb, a “rising sun stream” live performance down at Tokyo Bay in April just before I come back. I’m writing a lot of music whilst I’m here and have a new album in the pipeline called ‘Ingrid’s Stare’
I share all my new music first in the more intimate and private online environs of my little group of Patrons. You’re invited to join the party and see and hear what’s going on.