Journey in Japan Part 56: Dome Alone

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Over the last few days the temperature has got increasingly colder. Winter is finally upon us. Recently, as I have been wandering around in just a short sleeved shirt, I have started to lose count of the number of times that I have been asked, “Aren’t you cold?” The weather today is 18°C, and Tokyo is just a rainstorm away from being reminiscent of an English summer. I head out into the freezing cold in search for something to do.

My first stop is an event in Asakusa known as Neko Matsuri, translating to mean ‘Cat Festival’. Unfortunately, a better translation would probably be ‘Cat Disappointment’. The festival is two small market stalls selling cat postcards and biscuits with cat faces on them. Nothing else. Not even a cat mascot to photograph. I leave the ‘festival’ and start walking in the direction of Ueno Park to see some ninjas.

Today is the Iga-Ueno Ninja Festival. Market stalls here sell overpriced food, a band on stage comprises of eight young women dancing and looking exhausted, and the only ninjas here are those trying to trick small children into winning rubbish prizes at fairground style attractions. Once again, not a very exciting festival for me; perhaps this one is more of a family event though, and coming here alone at thirty-three years old, I am probably not the target audience. At least I got to see a man dressed as a ninja though.

I take a short wander in the direction of Akihabara Station. In the station I am surprised to find that just outside the entrance to the Sōbu Line, is a live music event known as JR Live. With five different lines at Akihabara Station, only the people heading to this platform get to witness the delights of this event. A strange location for a stage, if you ask me.

The band are dressed in festive clothing and are performing a familiar tune, but I can’t quite place it. The poster says that, “This mini orchestra can be enjoyed by both children and the elderly.” Once again today, I don’t quite fit into the age demographic, and subsequently, I can’t enjoy the music.

I take a train and arrive at Suidobashi Station. Here, I walk five minutes to Tokyo Dome. Today, and for the next three months, the entirety of Tokyo Dome City is wrapped in light as part of its annual winter illuminations.

It becomes apparent to me that at this time of year, all off the interesting festivals seem to have finished, only to be replaced by Christmas illuminations and other festive events. In a country where fewer than 1% of the population are Christian, I find it strange that so many places are littered with Christmas decorations, are playing Christmas music, and are promoting a holiday that doesn’t quite fit in with traditional Japanese Culture.

The theme for this years Tokyo Dome illuminations is ‘Light of Promenade’, and there are lots of lights. 2.2 million to be exact. Attractions include the ‘Galaxy Dome’, the elaborately titled, ‘Glorious Chandelier’, and a ‘Milky Way’ of light, featuring a 140 metre long corridor lit by motion sensors. The corridor of lights change colour as people walk beneath them. The corridor is directly under the path of a well lit roller coaster; as the ride roars above, the lights flicker and shake.

Despite the subtle Christmas theme featuring only nine massive Christmas trees, the rest of the illuminations look quite nice. An instrumental version of ‘A Whole New World’ from Disney’s Aladdin plays from every speaker in the vicinity, a giant statue of Ultraman stands guard beside a glass pyramid of multicoloured lights, and people dressed in Santa Claus outfits dash about merrily.

Alone, I walk the full length of the illuminations, passing couple after couple holding hands and smiling. I realise that this is my first time to see any public displays of affection in Japan. It reminds me of just how lonely it is here; the mix of Christmas displays, pretty lights, and couples in love. I take one last photograph of some ordinary trees, before heading back to the train station.

On the train, I see a sign that says, ‘Merry ChristmaSOCKS!’, and it instantly cheers me up.

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