Published: March 3rd 2009March 3rd 2009
The best thing about Tokyo, from a foreigner’s point of view, is that people don’t stare at you on the subway. Having lived in Nagoya for over sixth months now and having faced a daily ordeal of being stared at by the local residents, it was a relief to find that a two hour Shinkansen ride would carry me up in to a much more liberal and tolerant world. So what did we do there? In brief, we rode the elevator to the top of the Mori Tower, walked around an exhibition of contemporary Indian art in the Mori Tower, toured the Tokyo National Museum and Senso-ji temple, shopped in Harajuku, listened to some bands in Shibuya, toured another museum, this time the Edo Tokyo Museum and eventually took a fairly romantic walk around the walls of the Imperial Palace on an incredibly warm and sunny Valentine’s Day. (Temperatures reached 23 degrees at 2.00pm in some parts … extremely lucky for the wedding party we spotted near the palace). We also ate our own body weight in food, my personal favorite places were the Mexican restaurant in Roppongi, the Indian and Thai restaurants in Ueno and the Japanese restaurant at the top of the Edo Tokyo Museum which serves up a fantastic Bento lunch including my personal favourite, sashimi. We also had our moments of sneaking guiltily in to McDonalds and the local convenience stores. This is the thing about Tokyo, if you can’t eat it or wear it, it probably isn’t that important. My daily budget meant that I tended to wander down the ‘things to eat’ path but I did pick up a very nice butterfly print t shirt in Harajuku and now wish I’d gone back for the worryingly cheap mustard yellow heels. Then again, for 2000 yen, they would have probably lasted for one night out and then snapped in half around midnight.
The down side about Tokyo is that most of its history only exists within the walls of a museum. Much of the city was destroyed by the Kanto Earthquake (1923) and then the outbreak of World War 2 finished off the rest. In the UK, we’re lucky, many of our historical buildings still exist and in places like Edinburgh and York, we can walk down entire streets that have existed for hundreds of years. I do miss the historical beauty back home. In Japan, the Edo period houses burnt down, the brick houses built during the enlightenment collapsed in the earthquakes. Like the third little pig, they eventually settled on concrete as being the most stable material. So what’s left is ugly and brutal but it’s built to last. As I reflected on this I reached the conclusion that there was little the Japanese could do about the wobbly ground beneath their feet but they could have left room for some more parks. There are many good parks, such as the one in Ueno where we caught sight of the first (plum?) blossom, but in a city the size of Tokyo the lack of green can make the whole place feel very suffocating. (This was the first thing that struck me when we arrived in Tokyo the first time). I don’t think I’d mind so much but Nagoya suffers from the same problem, come the summer we will have to get on a train to Tsurumai before we can find a park. There is nowhere in Kasugai as far as I can see where you can simply sit outside and enjoy the sunshine. Coupling the lack of green space with the almost total disregard for the environment (where can I start on this one?) made being in Tokyo sit very heavily on my conscience at times. But the rest of Japan is the same, this country often feels like it’s built for immediate survival of its densely packed and swollen population. The only thing to do is enjoy it.