I’ve had some friends visiting this week from Toulouse.

Great to see them, of course. Cementing the friendship that began in February.

We met through a website for organising language exchange. I seemed to be the only Japanese speaker registered. So we exchanged French for Japanese.

Another benefit of their visit has been seeing Japan afresh.

I first came in 1990. Yes, it’s the year I was born, after my second year at university. On a working holiday. I was a fast learner.

Worked at Mister Donut. I’m sure I told you before.

Great for practising Japanese. Not so great for the pocket. Bloody awful for waistline.

Before I came to Japan, I had confused images of what it would be like.

My imagination was fueled by listening to YMO. The ultimate synthpop group.

Combined with visions of kimono.

I envisaged something like Bladerunner. Tradition blended with futurism.

But when I arrived, everything seemed to be American. The food, the clothes, the coffee. Although I hadn’t been to America. And Australia was still snuggled in the bosom of Mother Britannia.

After the shock on my first day of the incredible crowds at Shinjuku station, I spent weeks being woken by election campaign trucks, eating daikon and photographing. Powerlines, cemeteries and drink vending machines. Always with a cherry or ume tree in bloom for added exoticness.

Now that I can crack French-Japanese puns as I order American ice cream at Lumine Est, I realise that I’ve become somewhat jaded.

But when plans for escorting my buddies on all day temple sightseeing in Kyoto get waylaid in some Ghibli trinket store, I remember how intoxicating Japan is.