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Journey in Japan Part 49: The Amazing Kanda Adventure

The miserable rain-soaked streets of Kanda provide the backdrop for this afternoon. Two simultaneous events are taking place here today, both having very little in common with the other. The events do however mix two of my favourite things: books, and curry. I have previously visited Kanda when changing trains, and my first impressions of the area were far from positive.

I exit Kanda station and walk toward the area known as Jinbōchō. On the way, I walk along a street that features thirty-six sports shops, all next to each other. There is a small festival taking place here too, the 20th Kanda Sports Festival. I continue walking until I see a sign that suggests pluralisation came as an afterthought.

Jinbōchō is named after Nagaharu Jinbō, a samurai who used to live here back in the days; although they took his name, there is little to no information about him on the Internet. Perhaps I can find something about him in one of the many history books on sale here today.

Book Town is great. One side of the street is exclusively used bookshops. Little lanterns line the length of the street, and outside the usual shops, a massive corridor of small bookcases stretches the length of the event. On a normal day of book shopping, you would be spoilt for choice, but today, at the 55th Kanda Used Book Festival, the amount of used books in one area is more than anywhere else in the world.

There is a shop specialising in only fashion books, another selling just manga comics, and another selling rare history books; they even have one book for sale for ¥350000. There is something I find calming about walking the aisles of a bookshop. Nobody is here trying to tout me into their shop, nobody asks me to enter when I am already inside, and nobody inside is speaking. The squeaking sound of my wet shoes the only thing disturbing the silence.

The bookshops actually never end. I see some arrows painted on the floor, so follow them to a small charity run street festival. There are rows of stalls selling various different foods. One man is sitting at a table which appears to be the place people are dumping their used plates and cutlery. I look at the man, and he just shrugs his shoulders; he doesn’t know why he is sitting there either.

At the other end of the festival are more bookshops. I browse a little longer, before heading in the direction of Ogawa Square, for my fourth street festival of the day. Today the event is Kanda Curry Grand Prix. Twenty different shops are all selling ¥500 curry in the hopes of attaining the grand prize. A polling station with an honesty policy is in place; if I wanted, I could continuously vote for the same shop over and over.

Kanda boasts over two hundred curry restaurants, so this is the perfect choice of location for this competition. Outside every stall is a tout shouting at me to go buy their food. A woman in a maid outfit gives me a smile and points in the direction of the store she is here to promote. Soaking wet mascots wander around. There is a stage featuring live music. Three young women are signing autographs for middle-aged men. The smell of curry keeps me at Ogawa Square for half an hour, before it is time to go.

I walk back to Akihabara and take the Hibiya Line back to Minowa. Every piece of advertising space on the train is for the same company. On Japanese trains there are usually about thirty to forty adverts in each carriage; on this train, all signs exclusively advertise an urban park town. Very strange.

I grab some things from home, before cycling over to Asakusa, for a Hallowe’en party. At the bar, I put on makeup in the hope of looking like a zombie. Friends come and go, some with costumes, others without. Free Hallowe’en themed sweets are on offer, and glowing plastic pumpkins litter the bar.

At one point I am asked to fetch a forgotten cake from a local bakery. Waiting at the traffic lights, I see a little child with her mother waiting to cross the road. They are looking at me, so I make zombie noises at the child; the child screams and hides behind her mother’s leg. All in the good spirit of Hallowe’en.

Back at the bar, two French chefs are here to cook for everybody, and they can cook very well. Canapés, crêpes, and tuna gratin the highlights. We are then treated to some live music from a local act, and some delicious cake.

As the party draws to a close, a Japanese friend of mine hands me a signed copy of his book. It is my favourite book of his, albeit, the only one I have ever read; the others are written in Japanese. I find it difficult to show feelings of genuine gratitude dressed as a zombie, but I will absolutely treasure his gift.

After the party, we head out to another bar, for an event known as ‘Trick or Drink!’ I try to stay in character at the bar, bumping into walls, mumbling, and dragging one leg as I walk. Homer Simpson is the disc jockey, his music choice better than I would have imagined. My sumo wrestler friend is here too, still taller than me, but a lot less drunk than the last time we met.

After getting photographed with a sumo wrestler whilst dressed in zombie makeup, I decide there isn’t really much else left to do in the world, so I head home to sleep.

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