Day two takes me to Roppongi Hills for lunch at a Chinese restaurant and coming out of the elevator from the metro we discover that the entrance to the complex (just before the giant spider sculpture) is decorated and paved with red dots. The Mori Art Museum Gallery is hosting a tenth anniversary exhibition titled 'All You Need Is LOVE - from Chagall to Kusama and Hatsune Miku'
The dots theme carries around the area, with activities for children and a larger than life figure of a child in a polka-dot dress swinging above our heads. And the exhibition itself is in full swing, finishing on the September 1.
There is also a poster advertising Harry Potter - the exhibition, at the Mori Art Museum and the film Wolverine making its debut at the cinema next door.
The area around the Mori Building has quite a different atmosphere from last year and a new energy. 'Yes', I was told, 'there are lots of lease changes; leases last for two years and then new businesses get a chance at the space'. Interiors have been upgraded, some making powerful, universal statements with mirror surfaces, others exploring the pulling power of steps to the ambulant shopper. I make a mental note to return, not just for 'All You Need Is LOVE' but also to check out if wheelborne and mobility restricted people are catered for in these stepped interiors.
I get manhandled up the two steps in the narrow entrance to the Chinese restaurant and, in a small private room, we select a Viking - all you can eat in an hour for a fixed price. As we browse and tap in our order on the iPad menu, choosing varieties of Dim Sum (and similar portion-sized delicacies), I become aware of new information about ingredients, the pork content of dishes is now clearly labelled. As a vegetarian I find that so helpful as pork oil is much used in Chinese cooking. My taste buds are in for a cheerful roller coaster ride.
School holiday Tokyo
vibrant with youth and
have all the Suits
hidden? The size
too large, polished
leather shoes lost
among lazy trainers.
Pretty, pretty frills
and lace froth
over slinky jersey
parade the billows
of water-vapoured air,
the shaded fountains
of the smart Roppongi Hills.
I was greeted with a gift, tickets to Kabuki in the newly finished theatre. The performance will take place at the beginning of September, I am very pleased and so curious. The old Kabuki theatre had been pulled down and the redevelopment images of the site showed a massive skyscraper office block behind a small redbrick box, a modern and efficient, if disappointing, use of the space. I had been sad not to have been able to experience this traditional Japanese event in the appropriate surroundings.
However, today the first thing to do is food shopping so we head out for Higashi-Ginza, a walk that will take us past the new building.
Imagine my surprise and delight to discover this clean, white and elegant skyscraper with a very large, traditionally shaped, beautiful brand-new Kabuki theatre imposingly placed in front of it. There are long queues at its entrance and crowds of people outside taking photographs. Kabuki is attempting to attract a newer younger audience and there does seem to be real interest amongst young people for older traditions, including the clothes.
Mussed-up, gelled black spikes
of semi-long Japanese hair
frame the face the peers
back at him from the shiny
surface. Hands fuss and fly
seeking home for phone,
wallet, keys, tablet, modern
life between the folds
of the brand-new,
We buy our food from Ginza Mitsukoshi (Mitsukoshi is an international department store), and I ask if anyone is worried about radiation. The answer is negative; the idea of only buying fish imported from Australia has occurred, but not been implemented.
The twelve hour flight has become familiar to my body, but the details vary each time. Processing me at Heathrow in my own powered chair confused almost everybody. I revelled in the freedom and independence, whilst the assisted-travel assistants consulted the rules and regulations. I successfully negotiated myself to the door of the aircraft on my own wheels and then watched as the powerless skeleton (without batteries and without the contoured cushions that make sitting for more than fifteen minutes a reality), was rolled away to the hold.
I fantasised about having Con.Text conversations on the plane, it probably as a fifty-fifty mix of people who speak a European language and people who speak Japanese, but I put in my pressure equalising earplugs and resigned myself to twelve hours of engine noise. Conversation is restricted to the expected and communication is via slow words and pantomime hand waving.
This was my first attempt at bringing the skinny-wheeled Japanese wheelchair back into the country, and once the aircraft had been cleared and I had been transported to its doors via the aisle chair, I eagerly awaited our reunion. The involuntary squeal of horror that escaped my lips and the agonised: 'That's not my wheelchair' was gracefully ignored by the man attached to the handlebars of a battered manual wheelchair. The dreaded 'health and safety' mantra darted unexpectedly from the lips of the cabin crew who took pity on me and sought to avoid the spectacle of my noisy refusal to transfer into the thief of independence that awaited me.
It is apparently hazardous to push the empty powerchair (which rolls most easily and smoothly without power), but quite, quite safe to push an empty manual chair. So health and safety dictate that I am first reunited with my independence at the baggage carousel, a process that ensures that I am supported safely through customs and immigration by my silent porter.
My support cushions seamlessly meld
into aircraft seat that awaits me.
For take off, toes dangle above floor
until we reach altitude and my life
is returned to my lap.
Hand luggage becomes
my footrest. Fred and George,
the sticks, live alongside my legs,
elbow grips in said lap,
my handbag dances a tangle
between sticks and lap, juggles
for space alongside food, and drink
I must hold in my hand there is
nowhere left that is safe, that is
my space for the next twelve hours.
I slide back the tilt of my chair
and prepare for oblivion.
From Narita airport into Tokyo by Skyliner, I wonder at the amount of new-build packed unceremoniously among the already densely packed townscapes. The colour of created geography changes subtly as the glossy turquoise-blue glaze of old roof-tiles gives way to sudden patches of modern creamy-brown. We speed past towns that flow into each other with barely room for a brief glimpse of cultivated countryside; past equally unsegregated skyscrapers, junk yards, luxury homes, abandoned tin huts, schools, tangles of power cables and shambolic dwellings all decorated and punctuated with greenery. I'm glad to be back.
Tokyo time has come around again. For a week or so before I travel, the prospect dominates my life. The preparation consumes me. I pace myself to live with this division of attention, I am well practiced in the phenomenon, but this year is more fraught than usual.
I think of my father talking about the see-saw between countries and cultures and the frustration of being constantly on the move yet going no-where.
I recall my grandmother packing to move us to the summer house on the beach for the season and my own determination not to live this divided life. And my other grandmother, long before I was born, lived in India where she too moved up to a summer residence in the cooler hills. So how could I hope to avoid the divide? It's part of my history, my memories and, in spite of my protests, my personality. It's in my DNA, the restless, reluctance of letting go, moving on.
When I was homeless I would buy pretty little things for my imaginary home and treasure them for a day before leaving them somewhere without looking back. I would wrap them up, just like we did for the summer house. It was somehow comforting.
I'm in the process of wrapping up the UK version of my artist and transferring my focus and energies on to the Japanese version.
The snag is that the Japanese version of my artist has such a fledgling identity floundering around without words, without the symbols to process and express the otherness.
Observation takes the place of conversation and I struggle to give face value the same weight and dignity as the spoken word. Finding and exposing the subtext in a culture so different is an intriguing challenge and finding my gaze is an act of patience.
I arrive, so the Google Bible declares
in typhoon season; I like heat
and humidity is fine in wide open
spaces, I cope badly with changes
of pressure; but the killer is concrete.
Radiating stored heat, transformed
from blessing under open skies
to oppressive smother of warped
atoms fighting the living tissue
that attempts breathing the breathless
atmosphere of the mammoth
heat store that is urban jungle;
the prickling irritation
of proximate concrete that
new, persistently renews,
Liz Crow 'Bedding Out' is happening in Edinburgh, today and tomorrow, right now, so here #inactualfact, some excepts from 'On Borrowed Crutches' poetry on wheels:
I have been prescribed a normal life,
life by the fifteen minute rule.
Sitting, standing, lying down; repeat.
So, now I need to ... go shopping.
First to get me ready: crutches
to the elbow, shoes and bags and
Mmmh, fifteen mins standing. Me?
No. And thats not even walking.
Yes I need to take a chair. Thanks
to the physios and Med. Eng. I have
a wheeled one, with support cushions:
seat and back engineered to fit
me. I've charged the battery, and
oh yes, another fifteen mins.
Standing, sitting, now I'll need
somewhere to lie down; and not just the bed,
the custom insert too, because
I can't actually lie flat. I wonder
how I lead a normal life
carting round the chair,
the bed and my personal array
of custom cushioned support.
Thanks be to Medical Engineering.
Being wheelborne I always feel
wide and neat - that's neat as in petite,
and wide, as in my chair is probably
a size eighteen, no twenty-two,
wrapped around my own ten.
Does my lover look beyond the wide;
the heavy preference of stressed men?
Does he enjoy being head and shoulders,
chest above my folded, wheelborne frame?
And how does he feel when I emerge
tall and slim, swinging on two metal sticks?
This practice wishes to inform you
that the doctors will no longer see you.
You were overheard by the practice
secretary, saying your doctor claimed
there was nothing wrong with you.
You will need to register with
You have, they said,
no quality of life.
We cannot help you work;
we cannot offer DLA.
We wash our hands
except to say
We do reserve
the right to take
your benefit away.