by Ian de Stains OBE

As I write, the cat and I look miserably out across the garden at the steady rain that, no matter what the TV forecasters say, smacks very much of the tsuyu (rainy season). It’s already late to arrive this year, but no doubt it will hang around for longer than wanted, leaving everything damp and wilted before giving in to the early summer’s heat. That said, this summer promises to be cooler than usual; enough, indeed, to threaten the rice harvest.

It was in just such a rainy season 34 years ago this month that I first arrived in Japan, and each anniversary prompts memories of my first impressions. For the first few weeks after I arrived, I stayed at the International House of Japan and fell in love with its splendid garden which—truth to tell—somehow made the rain seem less objectionable. For some reason Tokyo seemed to smell of freesia; illogical, I know (just as when I first went to London as a student, I thought it smelled of shoe polish).

It seems hard to believe now, but the walk from I-House to the Roppongi crossing in those days was a pure pleasure. The area was considered highly select. There were a few bars on the ‘other’ side of the main road, but nothing too scandalous. The crossing itself posed none of the threats of today where, on the weekends especially, it is a real challenge to navigate without being offered girls, boys, and any number of questionable substances.

I used to take a bus from Roppongi to Shibuya, and perhaps because I didn’t understand a word of Japanese in those days, the recorded announcements seemed enchanting; delightful melodic voices which I am sure were entirely unlike the pretentious ‘little girl’ voices that we hear so often now in public places (but not, still, on the city’s buses, I am pleased to say).

Once arrived at Shibuya, I would walk through the Tokyu department store towards Hachiko and then on to my destination, the NHK broadcasting center. The store was another thrill: a world of new smells, the food stalls being on the ground floor and for me at the time, most exotic.

I had never seen so many umbrellas as were unfurled at the Shibuya scatter crossing—even in those days a throng of people. For all the talk about the British gentleman and his brolly, few were actually unfurled in the City, but here it was almost possible to cross the road under a roof of other people’s umbrellas.

Ian de Stains is the executive director of the British Chamber of Commerce in Japan. The views expressed in this column are strictly his own and are not necessarily endorsed by or shared by the Chamber.