Sunday, 7 June 2015

Reflections in a double sake - James Bond's Tokyo

Following a recent visit to Tokyo, guest blogger Radley Biddulph considers what James Bond might think of the city today, some 50 years after Bond's visit in You Only Live Twice (1964).
For James Bond, Tokyo is outside his comfort zone. And it shows. Exhausted on his arrival at Haneda airport, greeting the country with a well-chosen swear word and with a guide whose basic advice is that the Japanese "do everything the wrong way round", his solution is to head to a Ginza bar.

Even when he finally meets Tiger Tanaka, the head of the Japanese secret service, he insists on a tumbler for his sake (instead of the “ridiculous thimbles” he has been drinking from) and insults his host by his poor knowledge of porcelain. You can almost see the eyebrow he no doubt has permanently and ironically raised during his visit to Japan as his coping mechanism. Having recently visited Tokyo myself, I wondered what Bond would make of the country now.

A bottle of sake
Tokyo is far more accessible now than it was when Bond saw the city, Japanese food is a lot more familiar to us now and many international and well-known companies are based there. And yet, there are still things in Tokyo that may surprise … and suddenly you realise that Tokyo remains different in a number of ways.

For a start, Bond would surely have a comment or two to make on the bathrooms; the lid rises automatically when you enter the toilet, the seat is heated, and they come with a complete wash, dry and deodorizer functionality. You can just imagine an amused Bond spending some time reading the instruction manual on the wall trying out all the options, and making a mental note to mention it to Dikko when they meet in the bar later that evening.

While at the bar (probably not in Ginza, which is now more of a shopping district, but instead at the bars and nightclubs of Shinjuku), he may give sake another go. But it is falling in popularity and he may instead stick to Asahi beer. Or more probably, he’d go with shochu, which is stronger than sake and may be more to Bond’s liking. He may even drink the local whisky. And he'd enjoy it this time. Despite Bond doubting that Japanese whisky would make a good foundation for anything, it now competes on equal terms with the world’s best. 

Some things never change, and Bond would be familiar with old haunts such as Hotel Okura, still there although a little old-fashioned with a 1960s feel. But given Bond’s preference to eat at station restaurants, I think he would love Tokyo Station, which hosts an underground city of bars and restaurants, including the famous Ramen Street.  

Getting to Fukuoka on his mission to the Castle of Death, Bond would, I am sure, be in awe of the shinkansen bullet trains, getting to his destination in little more than six hours. 

Would Bond be out of his depth were he to visit Tokyo now? I hope not. I like to think he would be less dismissive, and ready to take things much more in his stride.

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