Published: June 25th 2011June 22nd 2011
I ♥ Tokyo.
This is the greatest city that mankind could ever envisage. Clean, quiet, beautifully engineered, runs as smooth as a silk kimono, history effortlessly intertwined with modernism. Everything just works. It's as if the Japanese have worked out a way of transferring a Sim City game into real life
Cars don't roar on the perfectly constructed roads, they purr. The pedestrian crossings sing a little tune as you cross them. The metro does too when the train is leaving. The streets look like they've just been paved, the parks newly planted. In fact, it's almost as if the whole city was only built yesterday.
We often found ourselves surrounded by a skyline of large modern buildings, mostly constructed from sheets of earthquake-proof glass, which does make for a mostly grey view, but it doesn't mean that the city-scape looks at all dull. Far from it, a sophistication and chic remains in all it's design - a flawless, spotlessly clean, modern metropolis.
The metro is brilliant, if confusing at first with there being two different networks, Tokyo Metro and Toei Metro. We made our way from the airport to our neighbourhood, Honjo-azumabashi with very little hassle, and have made our way around this sprawling city with ease ever since!
We haven't done half the things that we talked about seeing and doing whilst in this country; karaoke bars, a ride on the bullet train (although we did see it!), see Mt Fuji, sleep in a capsule hotel, see schoolgirl knickers in a vending machine... but we have still had an amazing week here, seeing some amazing sights and some bizarre ones too.
On our first day we visited Harajuku, the centre of the city for Tokyo's youth population. Designer shops and boutiques crammed into every possible space, rising high into the sky. This place gets flooded with people at the weekend, all looking to catch the new/next fashion craze. We spent the whole day walking all over this neighbourhood and could have spent a bucket load of Yen but we somehow managed to resist a major shopping spree! The Japanese also appear to have a fear of returning to their homes after work, the place is still alive well beyond 9/10pm, with bars and restaurants full with patrons. The place we ate, Jonathan's was a bit of a lesson in humility for me, as the Japanese don't speak English, at all. It reflects badly on us (me especially) that we expect people to understand us. Whereas in truth, the Japanese have done pretty well for themselves in the last 100 years without having to speak a word of English. And why should they? Japanese is a wonderful language to listen to, melodic and clear, and I think it would be fairly easy to learn to speak it. Reading it on the other hand is rather more complex. There are 4,000 Kanji characters, and they can mean different things when in a sentence with different characters. An example in English would be row (a boat) and row (argue). Apparently, there are characters than the Japanese can read but don't know how to pronounce, which bodes well for me trying to learn it....
We visited the park at the northern end of Harajuku on the information that on Sundays, 'legions of teenagers flock dressed as their favourite Manga characters'. This was not true and I can imagine that it has shifted to the next hotspot of Tokyoan youth culture, but what we did find where a crowd of people spending their afternoon relaxing and doing whatever they love to do; play the harp in the park, walk their cats, teach their dogs how to play football, tightrope walking, 50's rock 'n' roll dancing in troupes, all normal stuff ya know?
We visited several ancient shrines across Tokyo, each one perfectly preserved and serenely tucked away from the hustle of the city. You can't go inside any of them, but the beauty from the outside is more than enough. The Meiji-jingu Shrine near to Shibuya appears to be blended in with the nature that surrounds it, a beautiful wooden structure topped with a green slanted roof, if you weren't looking for it you probably wouldn't notice it.
Day 3. Disneyland Tokyo. Oh yes. As a child I never went to Disneyland but did that mean I couldn't pretend I was 7 years old today? Uh, no! Disney is infectious, 10 minutes inside and you are completely absorbed in the dream. The rides were fantastic fun especially Splash Mountain after dark, not being able to see the drop, or the end once you're dropping just adds that little something.. We spent the whole day here and could've stayed longer if the park wasn't closing! The funniest part of the whole experience was the fact that all the characters on the rides were speaking in Japanese! There is literally nothing more hilarious than watching a conversation between robotic models of R2-D2 and C3PO in Japanese!! One of the best days we've had on our trip so far. Cliched as it maybe, but the magic does happen here!
The food in Tokyo is both diverse and abundant in it's availability. If there's something you want to eat from anywhere in the world, you can be sure to find it, somewhere, in Tokyo. Obviously there's many sushi bars and ramen restaurants, as well as the western fast food joints (McDonald's tastes amazing here!). We were somewhat nervous each time we ventured into a place where all we had to go on were the pictures of the food, but we never came away unhappy from the food we had eaten. There's so much more to explore culinary-wise, another reason I will most definitely be coming back here!
On our final two days we visited some cool museums, for the history of advertising in Japan, which was very interesting, but my favourite, The International Origami Centre which had some amzing displays that if you didn't look closely at you would never know they were made from paper! The director's assistant was the perfect guide to us, showing us how to make a few different models and giving us advice for building them. An enchanting museum and workshop something a bit out of the ordinary and will definitely be remembered!
We've only been here a week and can only say hello, goodbye and thank you in Japanese, but I absolutely love this place. It is easily the best city i've ever visited and this will not be the first and last time that i will. If i had something to offer here i'd even consider moving here permanently! Everyone should visit Tokyo in their life, and if you don't you will miss out on one of the best examples of how modern cities should be built and looked after. And when this happens,as you will find out when you come here, the people are the happy, they're eager to be helpful, they enjoy their life without the day-to-day hassles that we have in our cities. Sit up and learn western world, these guys are doing something that we're not, and they've gotten it so, so right.