My mum once said to me (in a slightly disappointed tone), “why don’t you buy a house in Skanör and settle here like the other daughters?!” I just stared incomprehensibly at her and responded: “how can you show me the world and then expect me to stay here forever!” It’s true, my parents were (and still are) passionate travellers. Already at the age of 5, I had seen more old ruins and temples than I could count (or care for). I had climbed the pyramids and swam in the Dead Sea. At the age of 12 I saw bicyclists in worker uniforms scuttle down the streets of Beijing. And in 1981 I visited Japan for the first time.
Already in 1981 Tokyo was a buzzing, neonlit dragon of a city. For a foreigner it was hardcore. Nobody spoke English, apart from staff in hotels catering for the few foreign businessmen who braved coming, and there wasn’t a single understandable streetsign. People still lived fairly traditionally behind the glitzy modern facades and you could still see one or two geishas. The Tokyo of 2016 was very much different. People now speak very good English, are friendly, outgoing and helpful.
As a preparation for the Olympics in 2020 all the street names are written with latin characters, helpful information boards are everywhere and the metro personnel have been trained to help lost foreigners. Travelling Japan in 2016 with two kids was certainly much less of an adventure than in 1981 but no less enjoyable!
Tokyo Tower, which must have been the hight of sophistication in the 50’s when it was built, now looks small and insignificant among the high-rises of Tokyo skyline. Although there in 1981, many of the luxury hotels, office buildings and designer government buildings, weren’t. Just like in many other metropoles of the world, Tokyo now has it’s own ultra-modern artificial island. Odaiba was newly developed in the 90’s, and is a fantastic showcase of Japanese architecture, from Miraikan (Japan’s National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation) and the Fuji television building designed by Kenzo Tange, to the beautiful Rainbow bridge connecting the island with Tokyo.
What I remember of downtown Tokyo, however, still feels unchanged. The neon signs were just as bright in 1981 as in 2016 and the plastic food looked just as inviting.
You can still see girls dressed up in beautiful kimonos, worshipping at the shrine. But now they capture themselves with selfies first….!
Following my parents’ 1981 footsteps, the Breadbasket family went to The Five Lakes to experience mystical Mount Fuji up close. Kawagushi was originally formed as a settlement for Mount Fuji guides. The volcano is still climbed but you have to be pretty fit to manage the two-day hike, unfortunately impossible with the kids. A shame but we settled for a bicycle ride around the lake. On electro-powered bikes!
Going to Japan, I was very keen on a fully Japanese and traditional ryokan. The experience was, not surprisingly, totally different than in 1981. Back then I remember hating it. The water in the onzen was far too hot, I was too old for the children’s meal and just got nasty raw fish while my (smirking) brother got lots of delicious fruit. To make matters worse, the whole thing was just so booooring (I mean, what’s the big deal with cherry-blossoming trees?). The only fun thing was dressing up in the hotel cotton kimonos and larking about. Japan then and now; some things are different but some are just same same!