Ja­pan: art, base­ball and cherry blos­soms

Modern art, ar­chi­tec­ture, beer, base­ball, cherry blos­soms and cats – Alex Scott dis­cov­ers they all hold a place in the cul­tural iden­tity of Ja­pan.

Australian Women’s Weekly NZ - - CONTENTS -

WE CROSS the road from Tokyo’s Meiji Shrine and for­est, and take an el­e­va­tor to the fourth floor of a Hara­juku high-rise. The doors open onto a tiny hall­way. Drinks are dis­pensed from self-serve cof­fee and soda ma­chines.

We trade our shoes for the pro­vided slip­pers and step through a slid­ing door. In­side, it’s all very quiet, like a li­brary, but in­stead of books, cats. We’ve beaten the rush. Lo­cals flock to venues like this after-hours for a lit­tle one-on-one an­i­mal ther­apy. They’re havens of re­lax­ation in a city of 13.5 mil­lion peo­ple.

Sleep­ing cats are curled up on the branches of a de­signer ply­wood tree. There are more over­head, doz­ing in dec­o­ra­tive cages with bars spaced far enough apart for the an­i­mals to slip through. As far as cat cafés go, Mocha is top-shelf stuff. And these aren’t your av­er­age house cats. They are pam­pered, pure-bred fe­lines.

I take a seat next to a tiny grey kit­ten, its head solemnly bowed, asleep. I place a palm on its back, an­tic­i­pat­ing the gen­tle vi­bra­tion of its purr. Noth­ing. Cu­ri­ous, I move my hand gently from side to side. He makes no ef­fort to cor­rect his bal­ance. He feels al­most hol­low.

“This is weird,” whis­pers my travel com­pan­ion. She points to a white and ginger cat in the tree. It has one of those faces that looks as if it’s per­ma­nently pressed against glass. “I held that one’s paws and it didn’t wake up.” I try for my­self. His belly gently rises and falls, but he doesn’t wake. He doesn’t even flinch. An at­ten­dant en­ters and be­gins to re­move fur from the al­ready-spot­less car­pet with a lint roller.

Stand­ing in a high-rise build­ing over­look­ing a shrine, drink­ing Co­caCola from a take­away cof­fee cup, sur­rounded by eerily un­re­spon­sive cats, I feel like I have truly ar­rived. OUR FIVE DAYS in Tokyo are a whirl of beer, base­ball and cherry blos­soms. It’s early spring. The air is fresh but chilly. Ev­ery morn­ing we head to our lo­cal sta­tion, San­gubashi, and ride the tan­gle of train lines that con­nects this in­cred­i­ble and mind-bend­ing city.

We’ve based our­selves at an

Airbnb apart­ment in a small cor­ner of Shibuya. It’s just two stops from Shin­juku, the world’s busiest trans­port hub. Our neigh­bour­hood is a sleepy set­tle­ment of houses with a nice se­lec­tion of eater­ies, a small su­per­mar­ket and at least two dog­groom­ing sa­lons.

We buy break­fast at Boulan­gerie la Sai­son – two per­fect pan o shokora (choco­late pas­tries), which I or­der in my best Google-trans­lated Ja­panese. The girl be­hind the counter nods en­cour­ag­ingly as I de­liver my re­quest. From the Fam­i­lyMart across the road, I se­lect two salmon and sea­weed oni­giri and a packet of maple-roasted wal­nuts. The con­ve­nience-store snacks are a high­light. In gen­eral, we or­der food by sig­nalling to a pic­ture menu, or sim­ply point to a meal close by – the in­ter­na­tional sign for “I’ll have what she’s hav­ing.”

My recog­ni­tion of Ja­panese has faded over the years since school, as has my ob­ses­sion with Lost in Trans­la­tion. But I’m still keen to walk in the foot­steps of Bob and Charlotte: to stroll be­neath the cherry blos­soms and gaze up at the re­as­sur­ingly fa­mil­iar fig­ure of Mt Fuji.

When we visit the Mori Art Mu­seum’s ob­ser­va­tion deck, though, the moun­tain is ob­scured com­pletely by heavy cloud. The gallery it­self is

Tokyo’s cat cafés, in­clud­ing Mocha (right), with its ply­wood tree, are havens of re­lax­ation. Op­po­site page: Cherry blos­soms line the Me­guro River in Tokyo.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from New Zealand

© PressReader. All rights reserved.