The train is fast and efficient. This is the bullet train (Shinkansen), they built the first one back in 1964 and have continued to develop it over the years, the pride of the island. Leg room for days and seats that can spin around if you want to face the person behind you. The toilet is clean. The lock on the toilet door is mechanical – a piece of metal that you trust has your back. There is no hand dryer; everyone carries handkerchiefs. When a guard walks down the corridor, upon leaving the carriage they stop, turn, and bow to the passengers.
The bullet train doesn’t dilly dally. Passengers receive a 10 minute warning to collect their belongings and “get ready to get off”. This is announced loudly in several languages, in large font Arial text clearly outlining the instruction. No ambiguity.
As we cross country from Tokyo to Osaka, towns and cities flicker past like pages in a flipbook. Mount Fuji reigns high and magnificent, a town surrounding a lake draws me in and I want to stop and get off.
The buildings don’t look very old and they don’t look the same, there’s a chaotic element to the layout of the towns and what feels like little space in between them.
Upon arrival at “Universal City” there’s no doubting it’s exactly that. “No limit!” And “we wish YEAH!” Are the mantras plastered on the walls of the station exits to ignite the senses. Escalators from the train platform lead us directly to “universal city walk” – a high street lined with outlets selling all manner of Universal merch from Minion hats to Spider-Man soup, movie themed restaurants and high rise hotels.
We check in to the hotel, it’s a few minutes walk from the main gates of the theme park. We have a room on the 20th floor which offers views of all the other hotels. The windows don’t open so we don’t hang about.
We queue to enter the theme park and once we’re past the gate are shepherded to our first photo opp outside the globe logo of the corporate publishing giant we’ve come to celebrate.
Staff are wearing pink Santa hats and all sharing over zealous antics of the characters they’re representing – Spiderman hand gesture / Jurassic Park dinosaur crawl. But the moment the customers’ backs are turned, they retreat back to the present moment, their faces relaxed. It must be exhausting work, performing all day for a seemingly never ending conveyer belt of excited kids and worn out parents. They all do this thing of kneeling down to get at the kids height, to make connect with them. The gesture works and is appreciated, let’s hope their knees are ok and they get compensated correctly.
The theme park is laid out like a ‘real city’ with pavements and roads. Staff prowl the streets with warm gestures and invitations to duck out of the main drag and into their attractions. We join what we think is a soiderman ride queue but it’s actually just another photo opp with a plastic Spider-Man, and once you’re down the alley with the sticky fingered superhero you’ll pay 3000 yen for a copy of your selfie.
The staff member policing this particular photo opp is taller than me, with long hair in two cute plats poking out underneath their pink Santa hat. The family behind me are more interested in a photo with this staff member than the Spider-Man statue and as they pose and laugh with their exotic discovery my skin starts to crawl.
Music comes at us from speakers planted in plastic bushes and above our heads. At the fair, the contrasting sound systems always stressed me out. It seems they still do. Music is pumped from all directions over a tannoy. Not a tannoy though to be fair, the audio quality is pretty good and these new arrangements of Christmas classics are kind of interesting. “I wish it could be Christmas everyday’ comes on and I’m taken back to opening for Roy wood in 2017/18. Theatres on piers in the glorious faded glamour of seaside towns across England. I remember a frosty reception from Roy Wood devotees surprised and upset to discover there was an opening act at all as I was a last minute addition and wasn’t on the billing. But I loved the atmosphere those historic chambers hold, the magic seeping from the wings, a word of wisdom shared from a wirey stagehand, the power of the auditorium and the sense of connection in the catacombs, sweet memories of good gigs.
We take a breather in a Jurassic park themed diner. They don’t have de caf coffee and I’m drinking mineral water.
A guy in a pink FILA sport jacket has three phones and is playing a game across all of them, whilst his girlfriend appears bereft with only a single handset opposite.
Queues for the rides are 40 to 85 minutes. Queues to buy merch come in under 10 so we opt for that. Spider-Man pillow nestled under my arm we continue our explorations.
Taiga finds a playground and conjures up his own fun for a while on the slides and climbing frame. I don’t know how aware of it he is but he loves movement and to stretch his body. There are no queues here and he nails that slide again, and again. I’m thinking a real adventure park with rope swings and fresh water would be better suited to this youngster as he stretches into his own skin, someplace he can draw his own imagined land. This wonder it I’ve let him down.
As a kid when we went to places, my parents didn’t let us go inside the gift shop. Exit via the gift shop? Enter / exit / spiral – once inside you can’t leave the goddamn shop. No re entry without buying another £50 entry ticket.
Dinner is a place called Happinness Cafe. I drink mineral water and ask for the toilets, there aren’t any and there aren’t any vegetables either.
Post 8pm and the crowds are thinning out like the hair on the top of my head. We take advantage of this and secure seats on two big ‘rides’ which are essentially 4-D cinematic experiences. I turn to my boy and love watching his reactions, a rainbow of dramatic expressions and emotions pump out through his eyes, a smile beaming wide and the shrieks of laughter, surprise and delight. Thank you Universal, I’d pay double right now if you asked me to, where do I sign up?
I carry these conflicting feelings into the minion ride where the story goes that we volunteer ourselves to be transformed into a little yellow creature for the remainder of our time here, we emerge as humans.
As we depart the park tiredness creeps in and we are ready for our dreamland. A full moon is overhead, and a few sparrows appear – I’m reminded of “my little friends” the sun worshippers call them. The moon and the birds offer some natural beauty and light relief. Some acoustic in a synthetic world.
Read The Glass Age Diaries https://www.dan-whitehouse.com/category/the-glass-age-diaries/