Cycling The Wolverine Tokyo Trail…In One Day!

The idea of this cycling venture then was to ride the route (supposedly) taken in ‘The Wolverine‘ (2013) which tends to zig-zag its way across the capital without too much respect for distance and time. For Tokyo residents the geography in this sixth film of the X-Men franchise is quite bewildering at times as the film edit makes it seem like such a vast city is easily walkable when in reality the distance between places is quite far. In its defence, geography has rarely ever been a strong point in movies. What do those who criticise it really expect? A painstakingly long scene shot in real time?!! Of course Wolverine/Logan could have used public transport to get around but that doesn’t seem to exist in the X-Men universe! To follow in the footsteps of the Wolverine meant taking in seven places with one of them repeated and yes I really did go there twice.

Themed cycling tours of Tokyo have taken a bit of a backseat in recent times on this site so it was nice to get back in the saddle for a few hours on a nice warm Spring day. The first Tokyo location appears 19 minutes in and thankfully it’s only a five minute ride away from the my place! It’s the classic shot of Yasukuni dori in Shinjuku which has featured in so many movies and TV programmes over the years and I guess it’s become the classic shot (alongside Shibuya crossing) of the neon lights of Tokyo really hitting the foreigner visiting these shores. I get to travel under the same bridge half a dozen times a week so I probably take it for granted. The photo’s below show the screenshots, the ones taken on the day of this tour and a bonus couple taken only the night before to show how it looks at night.

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After that I cycled on to Zojoji temple (below) in the Shiba neighbourhood of Minato-ku which is about 8km away and a route I’ve taken a few times now not that stops me from ever doing it smoothly! The funeral procession takes place at this temple on 35 minutes; locations which Tokyo Fox premiered back in April 2013 following the release of the trailer. However, not all the funeral scenes took place at Zojoji as pretty soon the action moves to the Chinese Garden of Friendship in Sydney which previously featured in ‘Priscilla Queen of the Desert‘ (1994). The real action scenes were filmed at this Australian location as the two places are blended together. There are no ponds or water features at Zojoji so it’s the Sydney gardens which you see prominently around the 37 minute mark. Posing as the Wolverine with three chopsticks poking out from between my fingers was pretty embarrassing and they’re not even that visible in the pictures!

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Tokyo Tower does loom large over Zojoji temple and is in the background of a selection of the screenshots and my pictures. In ‘The Wolverine‘ though this tower seems to be prominent quite a lot whereas in reality it can hardly be seen at the best of times in Tokyo due to the many skyscrapers in the city.

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During the funeral at Zojoji, Yakuza gangsters attempt to kidnap Mariko but Logan helps her to escape which is done in reality is done in a very roundabout way taking in Darling Harbour (Sydney!) and Zojoji itself with a chase going on through the two-storied sanmon (below) which was originally built in 1605 and is a rare example of early Edo-period architecture in Tokyo.

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Within seconds the action is in Takadanobaba (below) which is about 10km away! We only get to see the briefest of rooftop chases and arrow shots outside this station which  also appeared in the Jackie Chan movie ‘The Shinjuku Incident‘ (2009). Takadanobaba is on the Yamanote, Tozai and Seibu Shinjuku lines. Sadly I was unable to get on the rooftop of an eikiawa to get an identical match to that seen on 44 minutes.

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The action quickly moves on to Akihabara on 45 minutes where they take a brief respite in Big Apple Slot & Pachinko parlour (1-16-1 Soto-kanda) opposite Sega Gigo

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Photography is forbidden in panchinko parlours but mobile phone camera’s always allow for a sneaky one! After exiting this place Logan and Mariko walk across the bridge over the Kanda River in the direction of Mansei Akihabara Youshoku (2-21-4F Kanda-Sudacho). If they had any sense they would’ve stopped for one of their famous deliciouskatsu-sando as I did on a previous themed cycling trip.

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JR Ueno Station is the next location and this is easy and quick to get to as it’s just down the road from Akihabara. It appears after 46 minutes and is where Mariko and Logan take the Shinkansen (Bullet train) to “Nagasaki” even though these super-fast trains only go north from Ueno. If they had wanted to go south then they may as well have just gone a bit further south to Tokyo station which probably wouldn’t have been too much of a problem for them and no doubt they’d have ran or walked it!

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The station has many exits but its outside the Central exit on Jewellery Bridge where Mariko thanks Logan for saving her, says she’s fine (twice) meaning that she doesn’t need his help and then advises him to see a doctor before walking off to catch her train.

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I then had to cycle back the way I’d just came and so passed through Akihabara again (as well as the subsequent stop in Ginza) as I returned to Zojoji temple for a second time. In the film it’s a brief return to the temple on 47 minutes as one of the baddies gives an impromptu interview to the waiting media and paparazzi. Yukio is still there and looks on at the interview before Mariko’s father asks her where her gaijin friend is. Quite a bit of set dressing was added by the production team when they were filming at this temple which explains why some of the match-ups may not be so easy to notice as being the same!

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I was pretty much sick of the sight of this temple by the time I returned and I didn’t hang about for too long. Having been here only a week prior for the cherry blossoms I knew the angles I needed and was happy that the place was quite empty.

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On 52 minutes Logan and Mariko disembark from the Shinkansen and are in Fukuyama for a few seconds before it switches back to Ginza where the Nakagin Capsule Tower (8-10-6 Ginza) appears as a love hotel which they check into. In reality this place is not a place for couples to get it on but is home to many unmarried salarymen wanting to stay in a small place. The interior of these tiny apartments could be seen in episode four of the BBC documentary ‘Journeys Into The Ring Of Fire‘ (2006). The building is a fine example of Tokyo modern architecture and was one of my favourite examples of architecture in this article from July 2012. I can only assume that digital wizardry was used for this scene as the road they are seen walking down is not the one that’s actually next to the building. IMDb says that this street was Brisbane Street, Surry Hills in Sydney!

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So that was it for my day of following in the footsteps of the Wolverine. I managed to avoid getting hit or wounded but the 53.59km ride did no favours for my left knee which I smashed a few days earlier. For the record I paused the Runkeeper app at each of the seven locations (yes, I really did go to Zojoji twice!) so my time of 3 hours 38 minutes, give or take a short stop here and there, is pure riding time.

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Journeys Into The Ring Of Fire Episode 4: Japan

This four part series, which was recently repeated on BBC4 whilst I was back home, saw enthusiastic presenter Dr Iain Stewart travel around the Pacific Rim visiting some of the world’s most volatile places. The shows journeyed through the perilous landscapes of Indonesia, the geological booby-traps of California and the hostile peaks of the Andes before concluding in Japan which has had more than its fair share of volcanic disasters.

Geologist Stewart’s passion shined through and he explained and demonstrated everything with relative ease in the name of telling how the rocks beneath our feet have played a fundamental role in shaping human history in this country which has turned geological adversity to its advantage.

To be fair, I only really watched this as I wanted to take advantage of BBC iPlayer downloads to give me something half decent to watch back here in the land of awful dumbed down TV. I never realised at the time of watching that it was a repeat until the end where a feature on miniaturised electrical items seemed a bit dated and I was suspicious as to why the big earthquake of 2011 was never mentioned.

Unlike the usual documentaries on Japan, which tend to just focus on the weird and wonderful, this one was a bit more unique and showed how the country’s culture has been inescapably defined by the rocks. That is the everlasting message of this show and to be honest it did become a bit tenuous at times, particularly the latter part of this documentary where he focused on pachinko, haikyu poetry, walkman’s and miniaturised technology. Of course it was geology that played a starring role in these things.

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Around 75% of Japan is mountainous and with these area’s being less sympathetic to urban settlement it has forced its inhabitants into some of the most densely populated places on earth where space is scarce and every square centimetre is at a premium as the places are 20% smaller than in Western Europe.

I guess the one particular place which shows how overcrowded Tokyo is (due to the rocks remember!), is the morning commuter trains and naturally they feature here as indeed they did only a few days before (August 9th) on the Channel 5 documentary ‘World’s Busiest Train Station’ which showed the ridiculous nature of how pushers are used to cram people in like sardines.

One of the highlights for me was seeing the Nakagin Capsule Tower which actuallydoubled up as love hotel in ‘The Wolverine‘ (2013). Stewart visits an international lawyer who has been living in these 5 square metre rooms for 15 years with no kitchen and a fold out desk and bed to really optimise the rooms tiny amount of space.

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Rather than the perennial regular haunts like Tokyo and Kyoto, Stewart did at least travel the length of the country where he visited the U-shaped river valleys (formed by glacial sculpting) of Kamikochi which is a really wonderful part of central Honshu that I visited back in October 2005 during the Autumn leaves season. He also went to Kyushu and in particular to Mount Aso which is almost constantly active as the toxic gases bubble away down below and if it ever gets to the surface there’ll be one hell of a big bang.

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Further south is Mount Sakurajima; another perilous environment where the locals have to be ready for eruption at any moment. Furthermore, these hostile mountains have landslides, the soil is thin, stoney and unstable and heavy rains leech them of nutrients and its this kind of inhospitable terrain which has forced Japan’s 127 million people to live in huge urban sprawls.

So basically the rocks have caused overcrowding resulting in people craving personal space which led to the invention of the walkman (and its more recent incarnations) giving them their own personal cosmos. All this is in stark contrast to contemplating zen through meditation! The show, originally shown in 2006, concludes with how a big earthquake would not only affect Japan but the rest of the world who have invested here. Not even Stewart’s trip to a Tokyo earthquake prevention centre to experience a simulated quake could have prepared him or any of us for what happened two and a half years ago.