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Cherry-blossom tramps

By Ignatius Rake, Japan

Posted April 05, 2018
cherry blossom tramps in japan
Tramp on! Saturday in Saitama. © Ignatius Rake

Street drinking in Japan, yeah?

One of the many great things about Japan – and there are indeed many of them – is that it's perfectly legal to drink booze in public here.

The only downside, really, is the price, although the 7-11 chain of convenience stores has teamed up with Suntory to develop a fantastically-named beer called the Brew that retails at around ¥700 (£4.70; $6.60) for a six-pack of 350ml cans as opposed to around ¥1,300 for Sapporo or something.

While this is a clear winner on the per-cent-per-pence front (it weighs in at a healthy 5%), it's still got a long way to go to beat the two quid and some shrapnel needed to buy four 500ml cans of Sullington down Asda.

Mind you, I'd have even further to go to enjoy that deal right now given that the nearest Asda I can think of is about 6,000 miles away.

suntory the brew
A time for refreshing: The Brew will do. © Ignatius Rake


Anyway, money matters aside, this all means that the itinerant drinker is suitably free to pursue that most noble of ancient rites, a spot of tramping.

Detailed in greater depth here and here, tramping, for those still in the dark, is defined by the South Cornwall Association of Tramps (SCAT), the world governing body behind the sport, as "the al fresco consumption of an alcoholic beverage enjoyed straight from the can".

Or, in other words, drinking booze outdoors, yeah?

Now, while it is technically possibly to have a stationary tramp (usually utilising a park bench or shop doorway), it is generally accepted by practiced practitioners that a proper tramp mandates the alchemical marriage of drinking booze with going for a walk.

As such, tramping is something I enthusiastically pursue in my native Cornwall, where cliff paths and bridleways give the mobile imbiber many a fine spot in which to savour a libation or eight.

Conversely, from my experience, tramping has never really sat well with city living, where the sight of someone swigging from a big bag of tramps (the official SCAT terminology for cans consumed on a tramp by one who tramps, viz a tramp) is often deemed unsavoury rather than the wholesome recreational activity it actually is.

A walking meditation, if you will.

Thankfully, though, where I currently reside is somewhat different to the many cities I've previously found myself in.

In fact, it's very different in a number of ways.

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You see, while I am currently ensconced in Greater Tokyo, the world's most populous urban agglomeration with an estimated 38m inhabitants (the same as the whole of Poland depending on what stats you want to believe), economy, fate and plenty of good fortune led me not to Shibuya, Shinjuku or Ginza but instead to a suburb in Saitama prefecture some 30 klicks from the massed neon lights of popular imagination.

But when I say suburb, I'm not talking Surbiton or something similar.

No, my present adoptive home doesn't really go in for that gentle transitioning from town to country that we think of in Blighty, where cramped inner-city conditions seamlessly segue into semis and gardens before dissipating into farmland.

No, here things are a tad more abrupt.

One moment, you are walking down a street lined with buildings and nothing to suggest otherwise in any direction for more miles than the Who can see, then you hang a right and suddenly it's all paddy fields.

Then you walk on a bit more and you're back into the urban world before coming face-to-face once again with agriculture and the Green Man's fingerprints.

And for someone such as I who has always preferred the country to the city, it's flippin' ace!

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This pattern of land use, while perhaps surprising to British eyes, can in part be attributed to Tokyo's relatively recent and very rapid expansion (my particular suburb – actually a city in its own right with a population of 108,000 – was just a collection of villages until the 1960s).

But there's more to it than just that as this eye-catching juxtaposition of rural and urban is also symptomatic of Japan's general lack of cultivatable land (the bulk of the country is mountainous) and the ensuing food deficit caused by the fact it has to import much more grub than it can grow.

Consequently, while agriculture and urbanity rarely mix in Britain, the necessities of Japan see farmers in one form of another raising crops pretty much anywhere it's possible to do so.

What's more, unlike in Britain, vandalism and theft are largely non-existent, so you can safely break your back planting vegetables right up to the unfenced-off pavement all day without fear of some Wayne Gunt coming along and trashing all your hard work before twocking your hoe and wheelbarrow.

And to give you a better idea of what I'm talking about, here's some pics what I done, innit?

saitama 1
Where's all the neon? My new manor in Saitama. © Ignatius Rake

saitama 2
City living: Yep, you're still in Tokyo, you know. © Ignatius Rake

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Click the pic: Order your Wayne Gunt T-shirt from Rake Clag today. © Ignatius Rake

But where does all this leave the avid outdoor-drinking enthusiast?

Well, cloud bloody nine, that's where.

You see, as this is still very much the city and this being Japan, there are convenience stores everywhere, meaning you can pick up a load of tramps pretty much whenever and wherever you fancy.

However, thanks to all the paddy fields and the like, there is an abounding sense of the countryside and of not being hemmed in by humanity.

Further adding to the country feel, the pace of life round these parts is also far less frenetic than in, say, the mad scramble of jostling that is Shibuya, which, by the way, is still pretty darn simple to get to should you fancy heading into town to buy, as I recently did, a Martha Reeves CD and a teach-yourself Japanese book.

This past Saturday, though, it wasn't shopping in Shibuya but the sun-kissed river banks of Yanasegawa here in Saitama that took my fancy.

Lined by cherry trees and easily reached by the Tobu Tojo line, this charming floodplain is serviced within quick tramping distance by both a 7-11 and a Family Mart convenience store as well as a full-on supermarket (although, sadly, it wasn't an Asda).

On securing six tramps, which were handed to me in a placky bag that I subsequently used for my empties (bins are non-existent here and I am a strong believer in responsible tramping), I made my way to the river, a shallow tributary of the Shingashi whose name I was told but can't recall right now.

Here, beneath the blossoms and overlooked by residential tower blocks, picnicking locals of all ages had gathered in the golden light to engage in hanami while welcoming the spring with food, music and, er, tramps.

Lots of tramps in fact, although it wasn't quite on a par with a Polish-style al fresco piss-up it has to be said.

But then, what ever is?

meat on a stick
Meat on a stick: Does the trick. © Ignatius Rake


As might be expected in a similar Polish setting, though, there were also numerous food stalls pitched up beneath the cherry trees, although their wares, ranging from chocolate-coated bananas on a stick to grilled squid and octopus bits, were noticeably less European and sausage-like in nature.

Not that I was particularly hungry, mind, because I had promptly stuffed my gob on my arrival at the river and not with just any old comestible, I'll have you know.

No, this tramp kicked off with what I can only describe as a big beef lollipop: a stick on which was skewered a load of succulent cow chunks dipped in teriyaki sauce and then grilled before my very eyes by a woman who could well have been an angel in disguise.

Well, any woman who gives you a beef lollipop's gotta be from heaven, right?

Either way, as I trundled along the river bank, swigging tramps and occasionally clinking cans with fellow drinkers, my eyes surveyed a loveable liminal zone where the built environment nestled with the natural and where families, friends and lovers drank in the joys of the lengthening days amid a flurry of pinkish-white petals fluttering down around them.

Then it got dark so I hopped on the metro and went to the pub.

Like I say, it's the best of both worlds round here.

Top tramp.

Saitama rocks.

See also Steak for tea, posted 30/3/18.

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Ignatius Rake is a journalist, geographer, filmmaker, artist, singer and life-long fortean who blew the lid on the 2017 Eden UFO hoax. He has so far visited 75 countries on six continents. When not travelling, he divides his time between Cornwall and Poland. You can view some of his art here.

Engage with the Rake & Herald on FaceBook here and Twitter here. Better still, buy a T-shirt here.

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