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Around the World in 80 Days

Day 51: 14 November

Michael Palin - Around the World in 80 DaysA Sousa march is blaring from the terminal loudspeakers, mingling in a musical Babel with the Viennese waltzes on the ship's indefatigable Muzak system. We are processed through customs and immigration politely and briskly, and driven the short distance to Yokohama Shin-Kensan station. Shin-Kensan means 'New Railway', better known in the west as the Bullet Train.

The Sousa march played as we landed is a fitting foretaste of the extraordinary Americanisation of Japan, the country America bombed into submission in the war, rebuilt in its own likeness and to which it has now ceded economic primacy.

So the forecourt of the station has a restaurant called The New York Lunch Box, an advert for the Home Town Express and Tom and Jerry selling something. The remarkable part of it is that few of the Japanese speak or write English. They know a few key words, culled phonetically from American records and movies and TV shows and thrown together to create a new and batty half-language which erupts on carrier bags - 'Trad Boy, Tradition Succeeded to Men', or sweatshirts 'Soul Explosion', 'Funny Crazy', 'Hey Sexy'. There's a sock brand sold at one of the numerous little station shops, called 'Naughty Boy', and I was told that someone saw an immaculate, expensively-dressed woman, wearing a huge leather belt on which the word 'Bullshit' was written at regular intervals.

The station is kept obsessively clean, not just swept with a brush but scrubbed with soap and water by an army of Lady Macbeths trying to get rid of any stains that might indicate poverty or economic backsliding.
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  • Series: Around the World in 80 Days
  • Day: 51
  • Date: 14 November
  • Country/sea: Japan
  • Place: Yokohama
  • Book page no: 174

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