Sunday, May 03, 2009

As I sit here in my 8 x 6-foot hotel room that would bring a proud tear to the eye of any warden, I'm looking at perhaps the most unexpected sight of all in Tokyo: a Sanyo video cassette recorder, commonly known as a VCR. Tokyo is supposed to be the world of the future and for the most part it is. The searing bright lights of Shinjuku in the west end bear testament to that, but I'm far from all that. This is Taito in the east end, roughly Tokyo's equivalent of Brooklyn or Queens. There are many shuttered businesses, sleepy bars and restaurants and lots of old men wandering the streets in baggy pajamas. Bearing in mind Japan's massive population of centenarians, it's a fair bet to assume that at least some of them date back to the Meiji Restoration of 1868, which brought imperial rule back to Japan.

You can't bring too much back to Japan these days. For an industrialized country, it's extremely closed-off and wary of foreigners. It's a lot like America in that sense, except here they fear my germs, not my guns or my steel. That and they talk to me like I'm a human being. Upon arrival, visitors are fingerprinted and photographed. Checking into a hotel requires your passport and many personal details. A sign here informs me that it's illegal to walk around Japan without my passport, but I pretend that I didn't see it.

Before arrival, I filled out a form declaring that I have not been in Canada, America or Mexico in the last ten days, nor do I know anyone who has. I can only pity the fools who did and dared to come to Japan. Flights from Mexico (I did see one Mexican plane at Narita) are examined carefully and passengers examined by some sort of doowhacky sensor for the swine flu. Upon clearing immigration but before clearing customs, I was handed a yellow card that reads:

It is generally known that there are many kind (sic) of serious infectious diseases abroad, which have not occurred in Japan. Even if you contracted such a disease, you wouldn't show any symptoms when entering Japan because of the incubation period.

If you developed any symptoms such as fever, rash, abnormal bleeding, diarrhoea (sic), and jaundice within 28 days after arriving in Japan, you should consult a physician as soon as possible with showing this card (sic).

Standard policy back home, of course, is to ignore abnormal bleeding.

All that nasty business aside, Japan is great. Everyone should have the experience of wandering Shinjuku on a Saturday night mesmerized by the towering bright lights, tall buildings and the hordes of people, passing by Yakuza types and affable black men touting bars at intersections.

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