Japan is one of those places that I’d always thought I’d love to visit, but in a sort of vague way, like visiting the Arctic, because I could never perceive of a reason that would draw me there. It’s a long way and I knew that visitors can find it hard to get around on their own as the language and alphabet are quite impenetrable. So I was excited to find myself on an Japan Airlines flight to Tokyo.
The culture shock began immediately, as the bloke sitting next to me on the plane was so ridiculously apologetic whenever he had to get up and go to the toilet, and so profuse in his thanks when he returned to his seat. Later, as a queue began to form at passport control the staff looked mortified and swiftly led half of us to the staff check out to keep things moving. And when we arrived at baggage reclaim there was a man single handedly removing the bags, who I can only assume had psychic powers as he managed to put all our stuff in one pile. Once we were on the bus things looked a little more familiar – the approach to Tokyo is strangely similar to the journey from Heathrow to London. But once we hit the city proper things took on a more 1980s utopian city scape feel.
Spent my day off trailing our cameraman Geraint round guitar shops while he lusted after unique Japanese models (of guitar) he’d never got his hands on before (when I’m making this show I tend to revert to behaving like a teenager on holiday with his family and let other people make decisions about what we’re doing). Then in the evening we went to a punk club called Omit Vomit to see a band from Australia who looked as confused by everything as we were. We’d made our way to the hipster part of town, but like the rest of Tokyo it was eerily quiet (even the traffic seems quieter here), with no litter (and no litter bins either) and all sorts of possessions trustingly left outside the doors of people’s flats that would be swiped in 5 minutes back in London. Inside the club the audience were similarly respectful, and the only people moshing to the band seemed to be their Aussie mates and our soundman Nat.
Come the morning I hooked up with my new Geordie co-presenter Victoria Cook and we were off to the Godzilla hotel, owned by the studio that has made all 29 (count them – 29!) of the Godzilla movies since the 50s. It’s got a giant head of Godzilla on top that roars and emits smoke on the hour and a themed room with a giant claw ripping through the wall above the beds and a few other Godzilla themed surprises. Not sure what the staff outside the room must have thought as we worked our way through a script that mostly involved me screaming my head of like a man with a mental age of a jumpy 6 year old.
In what I think may be a first in AOTP history we actually got to go back to our hotel after our sushi lunch for a NAP. That’s because we had an evening shift ahead of us in the outskirts of Tokyo, filming a karaoke competition (well, you can’t come to Japan and not indulge in a bit of karaoke considering there are an estimated 10,000 karaoke clubs in this country). Vic and I were taught singing techniques by 3 judges and then the club began to fill up with people wanting to take part in our specially organised competition. In order to make things more entertaining Vic and I had no idea what we were going to be required to sing, and were given mystery boxes containing some costume for us to wear to maybe give us a clue (it didn’t help me in the slightest).
Of the acts that were on before us I think the elderly toothless man singing One Direction was probably my favourite, but in next to no time I was being called up on stage by the compere. My song flashed up and it was an Olly Murs number that I knew reasonably well, so I launched into it as best I could and tried to remember everything the judges said, particularly about looking at the judges as I sang. In fact, I pointed at my eyes and shouted between lines about how I was looking at them, just to make sure they appreciated the effort I was going to.
Once Vic got to the stage it wasn’t much surprise to find out she was going to be singing a Queen song, since her props had been a crown and a man’s vest. She really went for it and I knew she had it in the bag.
Everyone seemed incredibly relaxed about us taking over their little club, which almost felt like someone’s sitting room with it’s carpet and soft furnishings. I think Japan is by far the politest place I have ever been. What they must make of us I have absolutely no idea.