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Full Circle

Day 35: Tokyo

Tokyo, Japan 
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Tokyo squeeze. An office building slightly wider than a bicyle.
Michael Palin - Full CircleWhat has brought hungry Japanese to this restaurant for nearly two hundred years is a thin freshwater fish about eight inches long called a loach. It has two attributes which the Japanese value highly - it aids digestion and virility. These may well be achieved at the expense of the fish's comfort for the loach are tipped live into wooden tubs full of sake. As the loach suck the oxygen out of the water, so they absorb the alcohol into their intestines. Or, as Mr Watanabe puts it, 'Many fish are marinated from outside. Only in Dojo are they marinated from inside.'

Later we take a walk through an unglamorous working-class part of Tokyo called Asakusa. The streets are full of betting parlours and punters studying the Japanese equivalent of the Sporting Chronicle. Mayumi doesn't care for the place. She points out the yakuze, the Japanese Mafia, moustachioed, close-cropped hair, eyes darting about, lolling against walls, keeping an eye on the action. But there's a horse race coming up and on impulse I suggest laying a bet. We approach an elderly couple sat behind a trestle table. Mayumi translates the names of the runners. One is called Super Licence which sounds suitable for a BBC enterprise. We put 1000 yen (about seven pounds) on the 3.40 at Osaka. The old couple are not allowed to take our money and direct us into a nearby building where, in a room as long as a station, bets are taken and money paid out. A vast crowd of Japanese Andy Capps stands, wreathed in cigarette smoke, their heads raised to a bank of television screens. When we get to the front it turns out that the old couple have by mistake marked our card as a 10,000 yen bet. There's no getting out of it either. We have to pay.

Then back into the street to listen to the race on the portable radio. Hard to follow, but much excitement and a late challenge by Number 7 is successful. Much consulting of papers then Mayumi leaps in the air. Number 7 is Super Licence. Rush back into the smoke-filled concourse and tension builds as we move closer to the cashier. Odds were 12 to 1. We've won one hundred and twenty-six thousand yen, or eight hundred and forty-five pounds and sixty-three pence.

Exit Mayumi skipping up the street.

Given the virility of the yen, eight hundred and forty-five pounds is just enough for a meal for us all at a decent Tokyo restaurant. The restaurant is located in an area called Ebisu. Ebisu, Mayumi tells me, is the name of the Japanese god of prosperity.
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  • Series: Full Circle
  • Day: 35
  • Country/sea: Japan
  • Place: Tokyo
  • Book page no: 60

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  • Around the World in 80 Days