All posts by Sam White

Always Burn Your Bridges

Choose your advice carefully. And then do the opposite. Or not. It doesn’t matter either way, since for every wise saying, you can find another one that advises to the contrary.

So you must exercise wisdom when selecting your wisdom, depending on the circumstances. Or by the same token, you could dispense with wisdom entirely and simply do as you think is right. By choosing your proverbs according to circumstance, doing as you think is right is exactly what you’re engaged in anyway, so you may as well cut out the middleman.

Or keep the middleman, if that seems best.

To such ends, here are some advisory phrases inverted, that work better now.

  1. Always burn your bridges

You can’t please everyone. You can hardly please anyone. Can you even please yourself?

Not if you’re constantly worrying about keeping people happy and on side. So go on, start a fire. It might be fun. There are billions of people in the world, what does it matter if some of them aren’t speaking to you? There are plenty more who will. And if you have no qualms about bridge-burning, then you are free to act as you please, and it might just be that doing that—acting as you please—is your ticket out of here, and by here, I mean the constraints and disequilibrium of conscious self deception.

  1. Never listen to experts

Ok, I will add a caveat: except within a very narrow corridor. Don’t trust them on anything outside that corridor. And the corridor shouldn’t even reach to the edges of their speciality. Not even close. You might want to put a corridor within a corridor, and another one within that, and only at the very centre of that, chalk a faint pinstripe of trust. And be aware that even then, expert knowledge is constantly changing, sometimes quickly, sometimes at a glacial pace, but it’s organic and shifting, nonetheless, and there are vested interests, and bias and indoctrination, and experiences unknown, everywhere and in every field.

So take care during a pandemic. Believe what your judo instructor who’s been doing judo for five decades tells you about judo. But if an economist starts holding forth on anything, including economics, then change the channel. And as for journalists...

  1. The ends don’t justify the means

This is because there are no ends. You wake up, you’re here, you do some stuff. There are no ends, and there are no beginnings or middles either. You know how it is: the journey is the destination, that kind of thing. So if you resort to immoral or corrupted means in order to achieve a glorious end, you’ll simply end up drowning in immorality and corruption, as the mirage-like end constantly slips over the horizon, just out of reach, or ripples into vapour should you stretch a fingertip to it. It’s not that there are no ends, and only means, it’s rather that means and ends are one and the same.

This is the end.

  1. Give up

If something is going to work, you’ll know it. Don’t flog a dead horse. Yes, people succeed by trying and trying again, but only by trying and trying again at things that can succeed. So know when they can’t. Cutting your losses, stating bygones, and paying no mind to a non-existent past are profoundly liberating.

Don’t waste your time and energy trying to swim upstream, when you could be navigating with the currents.

I’m so lazy certain about this that I’m not even going to bother expanding on this point. It’s going nowhere.

See? This paragraph was given up on, right there.

  1. Stop fighting for what you believe in

You could get up every day and battle to change the entire world and everyone in it. How do you think that might go?

Or, alternatively, you could change yourself, a small piece at a time, day by day.

You might extend this to your apartment. To your garden. To your local community, but never to the extent of imposing on others.

You might find that these further extensions occur naturally and without effort, as a result of getting yourself together. And you might discover, personal changes enacted, that the world looks very different anyway, as if everything has shifted, and you didn’t even get round to laying a finger on it.

And you wouldn’t want to either, when everything is like this. That is, just as it was. The struggles were illusory, after all.

Vapour Trail

Cover your mouth when you sneeze.

He sneezes again.

Cover your fucking mouth.

And again. And one more after that. He’s a big guy, looks weird. Voluminous hair, and a wide, elasticated hair band, making his glossy, black bouffant splay out from his head, long and straight, in all directions. He’s wearing multiple layers of loose-fitting, brightly coloured clothes, accentuating the bulk of of his chubby frame.

I guess he’s around thirty.

But I can’t figure him out. He could be a musician. Probably a songwriter. There are a lot of rehearsal studios round here, and he’s got the of air of an amateur performer who thinks he should be famous. Slouched over, his shoulders roll forward even when he hikes himself up and casts a frown around the room, scowling and scratching, and demanding attention.

Or maybe he is famous, and I’m sitting too straight.

Across the table from him in the chain restaurant is a slim, beautiful woman. She must weigh about half what he does.

Poised and sharply symmetrical, dressed in monochrome, she looks him in the eye and doesn’t laugh, and he doesn’t laugh back.

She could be his girlfriend or she could be his manager. Her stillness has purpose though, and no-one gets to be that expert at concealment for fun.

We all have bills to pay.

He starts twitching. Is he going to blow phlegm again?

No, he settles down. Sniffs.

I can’t intuit what she thinks of him. She just sat straight across from his gaudy, heaving frame as he rattled his lungs, four times, with no attempt to cover his mouth, and no apology. But she didn’t flinch. Didn’t comment.

What’s in it for her?

She knows I’m staring at the side of his head, from my position at a right-angle to them. Knows I’m disgusted. Isn’t she disgusted too?

She glances at me, making brief eye contact. Was it a meaningful connection? Held for a second, did it signify agreement, or nothing at all?

She’s looking back forward now, her focus somewhere around his chest or shoulders. She’s neither smiling nor not smiling.

I don’t think she hates him. Not like I do, anyway. I think she’s smart enough not to give a shit. The brains of the outfit. The smartest person in this whole Japanese curry diner at three o’clock on a dark, wet afternoon.

I don’t know the difference between resignation and patience. Don’t know how to play the long game.

Without visible notice he sneezes again, even louder than before, but this time it’s over-ruled by a punchy metallic clatter as I slam down my stainless steel fork.

He spins straight round on his bench seat, faster than I could have anticipated, so that he’s instantly facing me. Legs spread, chest open, baring his teeth and looming hard,

“What the fuck?” he barks.

She barely moves, just as much of an adjustment as is necessary to hold me in her line of sight.

Her mouth hasn’t shifted, but is she smiling? How do you smile without moving your mouth?

“You fucker.” He’s getting to his feet rapidly and I still haven’t responded.

I’m watching him move on the edge of my vision, because I’m looking at her. It’s barely a couple of metres between our places, and I’m still staring at her as his hand slams down on my table, shaking my plate.

It’s a big hand, I’m pretty sure of that, even though I’m not looking at it.

“Kei!” she pulls him up curtly, “doors open at six.”

He steadies himself, withdraws his hand, leers down at me. He’s a big guy, that much is confirmed. I’m looking back at him now, wondering what he’ll do next. There are splashes of yellow-brown curry sauce on the table, and a couple of chopped red pickle squares, but that’s the extent of the damage as he turns and half swaggers, half waddles, to the front door.

His companion stands and picks up her bag to follow him. The way she moves is fluid and composed. She stops in front of my table.

“It’s just hayfever.”

“What is?”

“He doesn’t have the virus.”

“You’re a doctor?”

“Sorry for the disturbance, no harm intended.”

From her bag she produces two tickets and places them on my table, avoiding the displaced food. The gift comes packaged with an efficient disclosure of her perfect smile, and then she walks to the door.

Religious Japan

What does Japan get right? A lot. I mean, I’m a Japanophile, so I would say that. But it’s true, and one thing I’ve noted as being ideal is the Japanese treatment of religion, and the role that religion plays in Japanese life.

This is not a deep analysis of the history of religion in Japan, or a breakdown of the dominant religious beliefs, it’s simply an observation of daily life.

There are countries which are theological tyrannies, and by contrast there are those in which religion is being recast as a singularly villainous influence, to be endlessly mocked, and purged, and both types of society are missing the point.

The former are misaligned more egregiously, for sure. They’re certainly more immediately perilous for their citizens. But the latter is a slow-burner, collapsing itself gradually as it throws out both baby and bathwater.

Somewhere in the middle, as with all things, there is a centre path, and Japan appears to have hit upon it.

The major religions in Japan are Buddhism and Shinto, the native belief system. You will find temples (Buddhist) and shrines (Shinto) everywhere you go, sometimes on neighbouring plots, and sometimes even combined.

It’s not so uncommon that I encounter Christians here, and there is no shortage of churches, in Tokyo at least, but Christianity has only a minor influence. Other religions are present in very small numbers.

Nicolai-do. Russian Orthodox near Tokyo’s Ochanomizu Station.

What is striking, though, is a kind of picking and choosing from Buddhism, Shinto, and, to a lesser extent, Christianity.

After a baby is born, they are taken to the Shinto shrine for a ceremonial blessing. There are further rites at ages three, five, and seven (depending on whether it’s a boy or a girl).

People will visit shrines to pray, often for very specific things. Perhaps to pass a university entrance exam, or to find a good job.

Traditionally, when one gets married, the ceremony takes place in a Shinto shrine. This option is still popular, but gets a run for its money from Christian style ceremonies. I say Christian style because they are usually in a fabricated approximation of a chapel, so I’m not sure to what extent they actually are Christian, but nonetheless, they go through the motions.

Christmas is celebrated. By shopping mainly, it’s true, but the churches light up for midnight mass. And then it’s swiftly back to Shinto for the new year, as pine branches and paper twists–Shinto decorations–go up to mark the occasion.

If you live near a Buddhist temple, then at midnight on New Year’s Eve you will hear its bell ring. But when I lived across the road from a major shrine, I fell asleep in the early hours of New Year’s Day to traditional Japanese music coming amplified from its grounds, and woke in the morning to the same music still playing.

Koho Shoda. Temple Bell.

It’s customary to visit a shrine at the beginning of January. Or is it a temple? Some people told me it doesn’t matter, either is fine.

And at the far end of your coil, when someone dies, they will be given a Buddhist funeral, with their remains placed in a Buddhist cemetery.

This mixing and matching is indicative of a peaceful co-existence between religious systems.

To get back to the concept of balance, what I see in Japan around religion is that elusive conservative ideal: to preserve and revere what is good, and pay less attention to that which proves cumbersome.

And so religion is present and sacred. The temple is hushed and austere. The shrine hosts festivals and celebrations, and is at times more playful, but will be bowed to and respected, and turned to humbly and hopefully for favour or protection.

Customs and rites are observed. Life is marked out.

But at the same time, there is no sense of imposition. There are no threats. You can talk about religion if you like, but no-one will force you to. You can say that you believe, or that you don’t, and no-one will mind.

Crucially, you can make jokes about it all, and that’s ok too. But what’s interesting is that the jokes won’t spill over into cruelty or bitterness or passive aggression, because there is no need for them to do so. After all, it would be strange to feel cruel, bitter or aggressive toward something that does you no harm. Something you can opt in to or out of. Something that, if you do turn your attention to it, feels distinctly necessary, even as it excludes any necessity to be hailed as such.

I’m not sure everyone would agree, but I sense a mystical edge to religious thought in Japan, and mysticism can both make and take a joke. In fact, delve into the mystic, and you might start finding every aspect of existence hilarious.

One thing I can’t imagine taking hold here is the variety of atheism that clashes stridently with Christianity in Britain. It would seem anachronistic, overly-serious, off course.

It would be an unbalancing of the scales, when they are currently, almost without effort, so well positioned.

Bite The Dust

An unusually chill gust of wind picked up a scattering of fallen petals and eddied them around Kayoko, prompting her to pull her long, black spring coat tightly around her body. She was hurrying along the path that runs north south through the large cemetery in Tachikawa, out on on the western edge of Tokyo’s suburbs, where the city begins to mingle with countryside and foothills, and the temperature is a couple of degrees colder than among the heat retaining concrete of Shinjuku.

She carried flowers, and after another thirty seconds, and a turning down a smaller path leading between two rows of graves, she stopped at her late husband’s memorial patch. The stone of his Buddhist grave was smooth and shiny, in an almost-black, angular, modern style. She placed the flowers carefully but quickly, and her mind clicked back to the day he had passed away, at the age of 54. He’d died in his sleep, she recalled, at around the date the doctors had predicted a few months previously, when it had become apparent that his terminal illness was in its advanced stages.

She remembered that on the day he died, rather than having her usual breakfast of cereal and coffee, she’d woken up early at their clean, newly built home and cooked herself a meal of steamed rice, salmon, and miso soup, with some freshly brewed, expensive green tea that she’d received as a gift from her sister the previous week. The tea had issued a woody aroma, which subtly occupied the entire first floor of the house for the rest of the morning, and its flavour had been luxuriant: burnt and nutty, with just a trace of bitter brackishness after it had been swallowed.

It was a remarkable brew, sipped hot and dark from one of her best cups, and it provided the perfect balance to the mild white rice and flaky pink salmon flesh. The main course was helped along by the warm bass notes of the miso soup, its stirred sediment whirling as she gulped it down quickly, straight from the bowl.

Kayoko now felt a lump in her throat as the vigorous orchestration of flavours, textures, and colours replayed in her mind, activating ghost senses. Such magnificent contrasts and compliments, and the cups, the plates and bowls, the chopsticks, all attuned and in harmony too. She rode out a twinge in her eyes and nose, her tear ducts overwhelmed at the memory.

Oh, for another breakfast like that! They implored her.

Then Kayoko remembered: she had ordered some more of the tea online and it had arrived the previous morning, she had miso and salmon in the fridge, and there was rice in the steamer, ready to be eaten… it wasn’t breakfast time, it was afternoon, but still… what harm could it do? She’d had her cereal and coffee hours ago, why not have fish for lunch? Yes, she told herself, she was free and could take the path of her own choosing.

She steadied herself, emotions swollen but in check, anticipation whispering at her pounding heart. She could almost smell the tea leaves. Her mouth watered at the thought of the sticky rice.

After taking half a second to rearrange the flowers so they’d be protected from the wind, she turned and strode back quickly toward the cemetery gates.

The Golden Hour

It was bright and sunny in February. I loaded up camera and tripod in the front basket of my ¥15’000 standard Japanese commuter bicycle, the kind everyone rides to the stations in the morning, and dropped down the steep roads north of Tama River, then hit the elevated tarmac by the side of the waterway, and headed east.

It was late afternoon by now, as I’d let myself be delayed at home, by nothing other than my own procrastination. I had a sense that delay might turn out to be a good thing though, depending on how far down the path I was when the sun started dipping low in the beautiful, clear blue sky.

All I knew was that I was cycling in the direction of Tokyo Bay, and Haneda Airport, and, on the other side of the river, Kawasaki and its vast, waterside industrial zone.

And I was right, it turned out, about the timing.

Afternoon faded to twilight.

Then twilight dilates into night.

Picnics and strolls by the water meet fishing boats, as steaming, fire-topped chemical complexes become visible in the distance on the south side of the water, and as the river curves, widens, and opens up into the bay, Haneda Airport dazzles into view, radiating brilliantly while passenger craft descend at speed from across the light-specked sea.

After getting lost in the highways serving the airport, I double back through an underpass, cycle across a broad, busy road bridge to Kawasaki, and steer left, through increasingly vacant streets, and into the dark and intimidating industrial zone.

It hums and smokes. Its overwhelming structures vibrate forcefully as it operates, sucking in air and emitting menace. Its corners and gaps harbour cold, lightless water. And though the whole expanse is rumbling with mechanical activity, its roads are empty, and there’s hardly a soul to be sighted, nor a voice to be heard. A single truck speeds up an access route, an alarm goes off, and is silenced, and, after forty or so minutes of exploring, and still not even penetrating deeper than one edge, it’s a relief to call it a night and get out, return to organic life, and cross the bridge back to the north side of the river.

It’s a long ride home now, hungry and tired. Back along the side of Tama River. That broad, black channel of water, that slices an avenue of tranquil darkness through the nighttime sheen of the city, and the glow of the suburbs, and the reeds and the wind.

Rough Sleeper

Are you politically homeless?

Then breathe a sigh of relief, and be thankful.

If you feel regretful and lament that you have been rendered homeless, then snap out of it, quickly. You may have exiled yourself from your former camp because you didn’t like the direction it had taken. Or perhaps they exiled you for not keeping up. You may take this as a sign that you are not a tribal person, and pat yourself on the back for your ability to walk away or be willingly cast out.

You’re not one for blind loyalty, you tell yourself. You are an independent thinker. But if you tell yourself these things while declaring that you’re politically homeless, then you’re deluded, because to say that you are homeless indicates a sense of tribal loss. You feel that you should have a political home, and resent not being able to find one. You are a tribalist without a tribe, mistakenly taking the sense of isolation that reveals your tribalism as an indicator of a lack of tribalism.

The reality is that it would be very strange for a political faction to represent accurately your desires and drives. It would be misguided even to feel at all that politics, of all things, should offer any kind of a home or a shelter. That would be a sign of misplaced longing, and over-engagement in the news, and of looking for the wrong things, in the wrong places, for the wrong reasons.

If you do want to vote, or to participate in other party political ways, all you can do is select the group that comes closest to your current views, knowing that none will ever come close enough, and that in fact, even the closest may still be far away.

If none of the party options reflect a single thing that you believe in, or if all contain so much that you dislike that you can’t stomach any of them, then you can simply choose the one that personally benefits you the most at this moment, or that benefits someone you care about, or that benefits a group or cause that you wish to help.

Or, you can sit this phase out, and come back later. This is likely the best option. You have given it your fullest thought and drawn a blank. Good news! Now go away and do something else. There will be more elections and more events, but there will be nothing new, because it’s all been done before, just dressed up differently.

It never ends, and so it doesn’t matter if you sit out one day or one decade or the rest of your life. Things will happen without you, just as they happened with you. The exact same things, either way. And if that’s wrong, and things were different for your absence, well, so what? They might have turned out better, but then again, they might have turned out worse. You might, after all, be wrong about everything and have terrible judgment. You might be destined to sit out the next ten years for the good of all mankind.

What unfolds, unfolds, and whether or not you or anyone else runs through the motions of participation is just part of the unfolding.

And so now, you are politically homeless. Really, authentically politically homeless. And you can really, substantially enjoy it. You’re a rough sleeper, far away from the machine-like din, but not unaware of its presence, softly audible but incomprehensible in the distant blackness.

And despite its constancy and its mass, the edifice has no pull on you. Being homeless, you have no attachments and remain in motion. If you choose to go with a particular group for now, you are not in any way bound to it, and you can choose again differently later.

You are free from commodification, and acquire flexibility and perspective, allowing you to move around the political landscape as you see fit, or to exit altogether if you’d prefer.

In fact, it becomes clear: you never had a home in the first place, and you never will.

Pacific Lines

How do you write about surfing without invoking every cliché in the book? I don’t think you can, and I know for a fact you can’t do it justice through words on a page, either.

But some lines come close. And if you throw in a few pictures too, you might get closer still.

One of my favourite passages isn’t anything famous, it’s just part of an introductory paragraph from a photo feature, titled Autumn Serenade, in Surfer magazine:

“Much of Southern California partook in the seasonal delights of fall last week, even as temperatures were unseasonably high. How’d surfers beat the heat? By squaring into almond tubes and setting backlit trim lines from Baja to Oceanside, as the sun made its slow path across a cloudless sky from morning to dusk.”

I can take in those lines again and again. I think I can taste them.

almond tubes
Oceanside. Photo: McGuinness.

A more analytical quote I came across, and that stayed with me, is from a blog post by Kent Healy. He’s talking about at the end of a surf session:

You leave with nothing but a feeling. After investing the time, taking the risk, and expending a lot of energy in a surf session you walk away with no certificates, no trophies, and certainly no more money – nothing tangible whatsoever (unless, of course, surfing is your profession). The only true gain is emotional. And such is life. For this reason, we should think hard about why we do certain things in the first place. At the end of it all, we take nothing to the grave, but a collection of experiences and memories.”

You leave with nothing. But you leave with everything.

There’s a passage somewhere (or it may be a number of passages that I’ve merged into one in my memory) by Simon Short, either on his blog or in his book, The Average Surfer’s Guide, in which he describes a blissful feeling, driving home after surfing, eyes red, hair thick with salt, physically exhausted.

In this case, you don’t just leave with nothing, you leave with less than nothing. You’re fatigued, you’ve burned all your energy, your muscles ache and your eyes sting if you rub them. But you are more than you were before. You feel better for your beating, for getting turned over by the ocean, and dragged along the sand, and for that wave, the best one of the session, when it all came together. The one that keeps replaying in your mind.

The one that maybe one guy saw, a guy you don’t know, and he may have been looking the other way anyway, but that doesn’t matter, nothing does right now, because you’re stoked. And there’s an elated fuzziness wrapped around everything, after you get home, and you were up so early this morning—up at first light, before the dawn—that you’re feeling kind of sleep deprived even though it’s not even midnight, and you’re feeling kind of delirious, even though it’s only your third bottle of lager, and you drift into sleep.

Maybe you had a shower and washed off the suncream, sand and salt, or maybe you never got round to it, but it doesn’t matter, because tomorrow you can get up late, like, maybe 7.30, and check the forecast, and go again, because it’s typhoon season, and there are storms out to sea, commanding the Pacific, and that means swell, all week, and it’s offshore in the morning, changing to glass.

Perfect, silver-blue glass, rolling unfocused through your dreams.

Still in Motion

Football might not be coming home, but love’s got the world in motion.

Sometimes a summer tournament comes round and you watch it. And sometimes a summer tournament brings with it every minute of every summer tournament you’ve ever watched in your life, trawls your memories, digs through your emotions, and leaves you weeping into a pint of nostalgia.

Just occasionally, a tournament makes you twitch a hint of future nostalgia for itself, before it’s even finished.

England are out like we all knew they would be, except when we thought, madly, that maybe they wouldn’t.

But along the ride, Russia 2018 has insisted charmingly that I revisit England’s two greatest epics of the last thirty years.

First, Italia 90.

It would take too long to go in detail through the tragic, transformative drama of that competition. Watch James Erskine’s 2010 documentary One Night in Turin for a moving depiction of the events that took place. As Peter Bradshaw put it in his Guardian review of the film, when, at the documentary’s close, Nessun Dorma plays,

“it all comes flooding back, and I do mean flooding: as unbearably sad as ever. Italia 90 paved the way for Nick Hornby, for Tony Parsons, for dad-lit, for lad-lit, for men being open about their emotions. Paul Gascoigne cried at his second yellow card, and legitimised a spectacle that found its most extravagant expression seven years later at the Diana funeral.”

In truth, even just that poignant phrase alone, one night in Turin, can cause within me a pang of melancholy and longing. Nothing would ever be the same.

Nothing would ever be the same, Gazza.

And on, then, Russia would inevitably take me, to Euro 96, at which, just as at Italia 90, England had crashed out on penalties, again to Germany, again in the semi-finals, this time at home.

The full intensity of that tragedy had tumbled like black rain around Gareth Southgate’s distraught figure, after he missed his penalty kick in the shoot-out. Southgate who, now bearded and impeccably dressed, is managing England. Southgate who in Russia this summer washed away the emotional stains of 1996. He did this before England even reached their semi-final against Croatia, by displaying managerial and personal class from the outset, and being the man in charge when England–finally, at the fourth time of asking–won a world cup penalty shoot-out, against Colombia in the last sixteen.


And 96, of course, was when The Lightning Seeds, David Baddiel and Frank Skinner released their tongue-in-cheek England anthem, Three Lions. A song which is simultaneously cosy and self-deprecating, and–contradictorily–rousing and makes me think that… actually… football’s coming home.

I’m joking of course, I didn’t think football was coming home.

Except when I did, because it was.

So where now for England? What shall we do now that football is still somewhere else, abroad, stuck in customs?

The chance the England team was presented with this year was one in a million. The tournament opened up and they were given a clear route to the final. Dispatching Tunisia and Panama in the group stage? Should have been easy, and was. A lost tie against Belgium that didn’t matter. Penalty redemption against Colombia and then on to a pedestrian Swedish side, after which a win against Croatia would have put them in to the last match. Not a single world cup winner between England and a final against France.

As at Italia 90, Euros 96 and 04, and perhaps even France 98–at which England played well in their penalty loss to Argentina and could have gone on a good run–it’s one that will live on as a definitely could have been.

This year, the fixtures aligned, and a rare bond between players, coach, supporters and media became pronounced. England won’t get an opportunity like that again, they’ll have to do it the hard way from here on in, but there is, at least, a sense that they’re still in motion.

And so England must be analytical, ruthless, and not get soaked by those crashing waves of emotion.

Or at least, not until the summer’s over.

Mukojima: Not Quite Anywhere

Tokyo isn’t all neon and black rain. Traverse east, and you’ll find parts of the original city–within the confines of the area covered when it went by its former name, Edo–which are difficult to classify. This is the old, or the original, or the sometimes down-at-heel side of town.

In 2012 construction of the tallest structure in the country was completed on the East side of the metropolis. Sky Tree stands at 634 metres tall, is bright white, and functions as a broadcasting tower, complete with viewing platforms, and a commercial complex at its base.

But just to its side is Mukojima. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries it was an industrial and entertainment area, and it still contains some traditional establishments in which geisha are employed. However, it’s not a tourist area and it can seem like there’s nothing there. Except an atmosphere.

It’s desolate, just a little. Run down with empty plots, but also some modern houses with shiny, new cars parked outside. Slightly industrial, a hint of commerce, some parts residential, but also nothing in particular. Too quiet. Left behind but right in the middle. Dusty, blasted by a hot wind and baked in the dazzling midday sun. It’s still there, holding on yet unhurried, and dominated now by every vertical metre of Skytree, which can be seen from all over Tokyo, marking out Mukojima like no other district is marked out.

But still, not quite anywhere.

Get off the train at Asakusa, crowded with tourists looking at the famous Sensō-ji temple and the historical streets around it, and you can walk to Sky Tree. Just cross Sumida River and head for the unmistakable tower, and you’ll find yourself walking through Mukojima, which might, or might not, distract you.