Travel, Jetlag and Lack of Sleep

Friday 25th – Saturday 26th April 2008

The basic problems with traveling to the other side of the globe are of course manifold. Firstly there is the inhuman time one must get out of bed when getting a plane from Edinburgh airport that departs at 6am – for a check-in sometime after 4am but before 05:40 at the latest you need to jump out of bed, shiny and fit, at around 3 and be on the road half an hour later. There are advantages, though they are few, this is the only time of day when one may get along the Clydeside Roller Coaster (the stretch of road formerly known as the Clydeside Express Way) and the M8 in a spanky quick time – it is much easier to get through the neck of this bottle when there is nothing else in the way. Care must be taken not to be so relaxed, however, that one falls asleep at the wheel – this would be a poor start to one’s holiday.

The usual gauntlet of check-in and security are not nearly as stressful at this time in the morning but the real pain starts to hit as you collapse into a seat waiting to board the plane in the lounge. Just when you’re thinking “I could have a quick snooze”, the sun has the indecency to begin to rise which plays havoc with your circadian rhythm. This is not the last of the havoc that shall be caused. Two and a half hours later and I’m in Charles De Gaulle Airport, completely wired, desperate to sleep but unable to and a three hour wait to endure before boarding the long haul stretch to Tokyo. The plan, obviously, is to stay awake till I’ve boarded that plane – eat the first meal and call it “late supper” go to sleep and wake up around 6am Tokyo time hopefully kicked straight into the new time zone.

This was a fine plan but with one fatal flaw: the Spanish. A tour group of Spaniards was also joining this flight, greeting each other like long lost friends in the airport lounge and starting a disparate break-neck speed conversation between little pockets of them from which one would occasionally split off and weave into one of the other groups ensuring a continuous buzz of excited chatter and dispersion of hot gossip. And what better place to continue this party than in the sky for fully ten out of the twelve hours we spent up there – only broken up for the bits at the start and finish when they are forced to be pinned to their seats. Sleep was simply not an option. In fact I did begin to drift off at one point only to be disturbed by a medical emergency in the row beside me. Medical Emergency is a strong term for a chap who had loaded themselves with alcohol and, I suspect, a sprinkling of something nasally consumed and had fallen into a dwam (a scots word meaning a woozy sleep). This earned him an upgrade to first class and me the final lost hope of spending any time in this twenty four hour period asleep.

Wired. Tokyo, luckily, is not too bad a city to be in this sort of frame of mind – we arrive by bus from the airport in Shinjuku – a bustling and busy shopping, business and governmental district. Carefully weave luggage through the press of bodies in the labyrinthine station and make it to the line that takes us three stops to our apartment. I had noticed this before about Tokyo but it only just now occurred to me to ask the reason for the plethora of cables that snake their way through the streets to step down transformers and local loops, stringing the buildings together like a demented spider who has decided to try and cut the sun off from ever reaching the ground. Why aren’t these buried? I actually can’t think of any western city at all where the power is not buried and telephony wires will at worst only be above the sod for a few hundred yards before they reach a junction box. This is a high risk earthquake zone – surely these things would be damn dangerous in a serious quake? Like so many of Japan’s wonderful little oddities there is no good explanation beyond the bureaucratic nightmare of negotiating with all the land owners to arrange such an undertaking and more simply that this is just not the way it is done here.

The way it is done here is a recurring theme in Japanese culture – there is often no real “why”, not even the fall back position of “tradition” can always be called upon; why would the shogunate of ancient Edo have a tradition of not burying cables when the concept of having cables at all didn’t exist.

I stumble through the rest of my first day in the same sleep deprivation induced haze, blinking at the flashing lights, jostling through the ever present migrating masses and letting the continual background chatter of broadcast announcements, instructions and accompanying jingles wash over me like a blanket. I recover sufficient command of my faculties to pay attention to dinner – in a restaurant on the 53rd floor of a government building which is three standard skyscrapers with corners touching to produce a triangular light well whose actual design purpose is to give you vertigo when you look into it. A quick bit of analyses reveals that the on each successive higher floor the panelling around the windows gets narrower making the plunging effect on the perspective all the more intense. It’s impressive and very cool but could also cause mild nausea which is not great when the reason for your visit is culinary.

That night I slept like the dead. A little known feature of Tokyo is that you don’t have to go far in to a residential area for the noise of the city to drop off, the peace and quiet after the Spanish cacophony of the previous night is welcome though by this stage I could have pitched camp beside Heathrow’s runway and still been wrapped in the arms of Morpheus two seconds after my head touched a pillow.