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Published: August 15th 2017
Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building
45 floors up at 202m, the North and South Towers both have an Observatory, neither of which we visited.
Today we wanted to go somewhere where it wouldn't matter that today is still a summer holiday, somewhere where most places are open anyway, where most businesses are more interested in the customers' money than in their workers' welfare, so after a bit of thinking we decided on Shinjuku. There were several places that both Stephen and I noted as being worth a visit, viz: Shinjuku Park (which I always intended to see when I've been in Tokyo in the past, but never got as far as), a place called Memory Lane (and also called Piss Alley, a bit of a red-light area and somewhat dodgy at night, apparently), an observatory, and on Stephen's list was a shrine in the vicinity. So that seemed worthy of a day. We had to get back relatively early though, ie, not have dinner there and come back later, because today is Tuesday, and we wanted to check out the Kendo club that we thought we happened to see last week.
We headed off before 10, and we arrived at Shinjuku Station at 11.15, maybe. Shinjuku Station has always been a bit of a bête noire for me, it being so big, with so
Part of Shinjuku's Skyscraper District
The little white building with a brown stripe going up the side (left of middle) used to be a tall building, in 1983.
many passageways, all looking pretty much the same, but having different facilities and shops and kiosks all over the place. In 1983, I happened across a gorgeous little okonomiyaki shop in the station, but I didn't know exactly where it was, so any other time I happened across it I stopped for a bite no matter what time of day it was, because I might never find it again. And then one day, I never did. I remember the South Exit as being an annoying waste of space. Time after time I accidentally finished up there, and I'd emerge outside, and there was never anything there that I wanted. I remember a walkway, but it didn't go anywhere I ever needed or wanted to be. Bloody South Exit. But today the map suggested we go there first, so we did, as two of our spots were in that general direction. There were actually several exits at the south end of the station, and we were heading for Number 8, the furthest, of course. There must have been 800m or more of underground passage to get to the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building and its Observatories. When we finally got outside, the
Probably more vibrant at night, but still evocative on a rainy afternoon.
Skyscraper District was fairly impressive. Many of Tokyo's newer tall buildings are being built with a nice brown stone, that actually looks quite... not exactly traditional, but it has an old-fashioned quality to it. I spied a building with lovely lines that I remembered from 1983, when there were a dozen? 20? buildings in the area of maybe 30 floors or so. It was a midget among all the newer ones.
Behind the Metropolitan Building was a park, not the one I've not yet seen, but at least this one was close, and it wasn't yet raining, so we thought we'd pop over just for a quick look. I shot a short piece of video of it because, my goodness, the nature in Tokyo is just SO LOUD! But it seems there's nowhere to post video on here. Sorry. Anyway, there are three huge areas of parkland greenery just touching corners, leading onto each other from Shibuya to Shinjuku, so the cicadas aren't all in one tiny piece of greenery, but it sounds like they are. It was deafening. I have just finished a book called "Norwegian Wood" by Haruki Murakami, set in Tokyo in the late 1960s, and
a line towards the end mentioned how "...the grasshoppers were screaming" and now I know what he meant. We took a short walk to look at "Tokyo Niagara" but just found a bare stone wall and a dry pool. It's not the first dry pool/stream/fountain we've seen, and I'm guessing that the city has turned them all off for water conservation purposes. Because apparently there's not enough rain. Yeah, right. It drizzled all day today. Not always enough for an umbrella to be absolutely necessary, but always enough to carry one. (Not too cold though. I was wearing long sleeves, but it was a very light fabric top, and I never wanted my jacket.)
We crossed the road back to the Metropolitan Building in order to go up to their (free) observatory on the 45th floor. We came in a side door, and were directed to towards the lifts, but there was a queue, which we followed, and followed, and followed, and then got to the end of. It was now 12 noon, and after we had waited about 3 minutes in line, Stephen saw a sign some metres ahead of us that said there was 30 minutes to
wait from that point. So we decided to give that away for today.
We had already decided to take a taxi to the next place - it was about a kilometre away, not too difficult or expensive by taxi, and we could save our feet for later. We were headed for the Toto Showroom. Toto is Japan's biggest toilet manufacturer, and their showroom of current state of the art and future models should be pretty cool. But we had forgotten that today is a holiday, and they are a business and since it's a free showroom, they don't need to worry about paying customers. Good for them. I'd rather their staff had a holiday. We can go back another day.
So we walked a bit, had an Italian lunch in a department store, and came out to continue our day, but then got confused trying to match maps to reality. Stephen managed to read Google Maps brilliantly today, and led us in the right direction towards the aforementioned Piss Alley. Luckily this was highlighted under that name on the map, so we could keep track of it, but we had started a long way away and on the
opposite side of the tracks and the far end of the station. (Did I mention that Shinjuku Station has the equivalent of the entire population of NZ
passing through it every day? It's not small. One of the exits even has its own subway station!) Finally we got to the right end and the right side of the station, and bang! There it was! A tiny little piece of old Tokyo, two or three narrow wee lanes, with tiny little eateries and drinkeries, maybe half of which were open at this hour. If you have access to Netflix, there is a lovely understated little Japanese programme called "Midnight Diner" that has stories about the customers of a shop like these, and we saw today that the programme is probably a wish that there were more of these little shops still around, and a nostalgic feeling for a time when they were common.
Now there was nothing more we wanted to look for in Shinjuku. In 1983, the West Exit of Shinjuku Station was an exciting panorama of enticing shops, blaring music and advertising, flashing lights and screens all over the place, and today we saw nothing like that, just
big blank walls of tall department stores. I really hope we were in the wrong place. We probably will go back, on a fine day, for the park and the observatory, and I hope we see something of my old Shinjuku, because this was just another cityscape. I'm so glad we saw Piss Alley, though, because although you can't call it the "real" Tokyo, at least it is a place that is unique to Tokyo, and shows that not all of the city has been caught up in the modern rush towards bigger and taller and richer. I'm wondering if it has taken effort on the part of the business owners there to resist development, or if the city planners have been sensible enough to leave this tiny patch there of their own accord. Nah, somehow I can't really see that happening. I hope it has been people-power that has kept this valuable real estate hidden like an uncut gem.
This was about 3.00. We took a quick walk-though of a department store connected to the station, but although we spent a bit of time looking up close at the kimono displays, there was nothing for us. We were home right on 5 o'clock. There is a chiming tune that rings at 5 every evening. I don't know if it comes from a local school (although it's summer holidays) or some city institution, but Stephen was putting the key in the door just as it finished. We had bought dinner at K station to heat up at home again, but I was ready for a sleep before that and going out for another walk after dinner.
We went out at 7.30 to see if this kendo club was meeting again tonight where we had seen them last week, but when we got there, the lights were off and there was no one in. We walked around the block and there still were no other places that we might have mistaken for the kendo venue, so I guess that's that. It might have made for some good video, but we'll just have to find something else.
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