Visit in spring or autumn, the actor was told. So what did he do? He rode the bullet train in stormy, sweltering August
• Competition: win a four-night cultural stay in Fez, Morocco
I’ve always wanted to visit Japan, though I can’t quite explain why. Somewhere in the mix of childhood influences ranging from You Only Live Twice and Shogun, to Tenko and those Clive James shows, came an impression of a complex, frenzied, contradictory and quietly beautiful culture that fascinated me. There’s one thing all the guidebooks agree on, though: don’t go in August. Go in springtime, when the cherry blossom blooms. Or in autumn, when the copious greenery turns a blazing copper. But avoid hot and humid August. So, on 9 August last year, my friend Emma and I depart.
Tokyo, when we get there, has caught the tail end of a super-typhoon. After a long flight, it’s genuinely refreshing to walk through the sweeping curtains of rain. Itchy-eyed and numbed with jet lag, we nevertheless manage to shuffle around the excellent Tokyo National Museum, everything feeling slightly unreal and accompanied by a constant clip-clop refrain as though someone were following us around with a glockenspiel. It turns out to be a young couple in exquisite his & hers kimonos and those dazzlingly white, slightly sinister bifurcated socks, their chunky wooden sandals beating the distinctive tattoo as they traipse around.