Edit Blog Post
Published: October 26th 2006
Preconceived ideas about foreign destinations are almost always incorrect, but despite my genuine attempts to resist such thoughts, the word 'Tokyo' - the world's most populated metropolis - conjured many words: 'noisy', 'crowded', 'grimy'. From the very first moment of leaving Narita airport, Tokyo presented a far different reality to my imaginings - foremost was the quietness. With so many people crammed into one area, the citizens would do their utmost to respectfully not disturb those around them - talking on mobile phones on public transport is considered bad manners, loud speaker announcements are barely audible, and very rarely is a motor vehicle horn used in anger or for any other purpose. It is remarkable how this whole city shifts and moves through its daily routine with no discordant noise.
The ordered manner in which Tokyo conducts itself is also a marvel. Waves of people move with silent purpose across immaculately clean streets and passageways, and at any point of convergence - such as an escalator - people file along without any physical interaction - no shoving or clashing of shoulders or elbows. It is difficult to imagine that Tokyo is the thriving heart of an urban conglomeration totalling more
than 30 million people. The only indicator of the population’s enormity is to use the plate of coloured spaghetti that is the subway system. With the exception of a few hours during the middle of the day, all other times would be considered peak hour - whether it be at 6:30 in the morning or 10:30 at night - but peak hour with a Japanese flavour - ordered and silent. In an attempt to experience Tokyo at its most chaotic, and find some semblance of chaos, I entered a major subway station (Shinjuku) at 6pm on a Friday evening - and though swarms of people moved around me - the noise barely increased above a murmur, and absent was the usual intensity that accompanies peak hour in just about every other major city in the world. Tokyo is truly the antithesis of cities in the Middle East and the Indian subcontinent - places rich with chaos and noise even when a city street’s only occupants are a man and his dog.
So my preconceptions of Tokyo could not be more incorrect - instead of noise, I found quietude; instead of chaos, I found order; and instead of grime, I
found cleanliness. Beyond these generalisations, explaining my time in this city is difficult, mainly because one is a passive observer in a city devoid of the interaction that makes for great travel tales. However, this does not mean that a journey to Tokyo is futile for a visitor, for even though Tokyo is not a city of sights, it is a city of experiences - and what experiences are on offer - brimming with technological marvels, massive department stores and shopping arcades, with ubiquitous Sushi Bars and other delicious eating options at every corner. It is easy to understand how a person could be drawn into this pulsating vortex of neon lights and never leave.
Tokyo is at the centre of a nation that abounds in idiosyncrasies that are most definitely Japanese. One of the most obvious is Japanese anime, and their manga (graphic novels or comic books). Whilst here, I was able to visit the famous Ghibli Museum
in Mitaka, the creation of the highly revered animator, Hayao Miyazaki. Entering the beautifully crafted multi-storied creation was like peering into another world filled with fantastic characters and adventures - far removed from the prosaic reality outside. One could crawl through
small rooms, climb cramped spiral metal staircases, and gaze at drawings and objects d’art
of imagined people and places. Elsewhere in Tokyo, it was possible to wander through the anime dedicated stores of Akihabara, where in one instance, I browsed eight floors exclusively bedecked with anime and manga miniatures and models - including the famed scion of the industry - Godzilla.
Another distinctive Japanese love (though not too idiosyncratic) is their adoration of electronic gadgets and technology. It seems as if every person in Tokyo is fiddling with some electronic device they are carrying. In order to satisfy this insatiable need, the electronic stores are just breathtaking in their size and variety - with countless rows of sparkling lights and lustrous displays. Whatever electronic item I looked for in Japan, it would always find me discovering an almost incomprehensible and dazzling array of goods far surpassing that I had ever seen. Bigger, brighter, grander - are three words that encapsulate electronic shopping in Tokyo. This passion for electronics and anime was typified perfectly during one of my many subway journeys, when the diminutive grandmother sitting next to me was eagerly playing her hand-held computer game, whilst standing nearby, a
Supposedly the world's longest escalator
The ride from the bottom will take 90 seconds - it is located at the Tokyo Metropolitan Art Space in Ikebukuro.
besuited silver-haired businessman in his 50s was intently reading a manga.
The Japanese seem particularly adept at inventing spectacular new technologies, or perfecting the ideas and concepts devised by someone else - and this was evident at the Japanese Formula One Grand Prix in Suzuka. Apart from discovering an uncharacteristically noisy place in Japan (caused by the ear-splitting sounds of very powerful engines) the constructors of Suzuka were not just content to build a racing track - they had attached a fully operating theme park, complete with roller-coasters, water rides, and themed restaurants adjacent to the circuit. The whole place possessed even more of a carnival atmosphere than a normal Grand Prix, and it was easy to understand why Suzuka is much loved by drivers and spectators alike.
However, the moment that epitomised modern Japan occurred when I travelled to the Grand Prix on that distinctive icon, the Shinkansen
or bullet train. I boarded the sleek new 700 series Shinkansen
, and immaculately groomed staff bowed and ushered me into the plush interior for the journey. Though the train reached some incredible speeds, the movement within the carriage was quite limited, and it was only by gazing outside at
houses, factories and trees whizzing by in a nanosecond, that it was possible to appreciate the speed we were travelling. Lounging in my comfortable reclining chair, I pondered on whether it was possible to experience a more Japanese moment than this - riding on the Shinkansen
at near to 300km/h, surrounded by whispering locals, and attended to by ever courteous staff - when I glanced to my right and espied through the window the immense conical shape of Mt Fuji looming in the distance…
Tot: 0.168s; Tpl: 0.056s; cc: 9; qc: 27; dbt: 0.0164s; 1; m:saturn w:www (126.96.36.199); sld: 1;
; mem: 1.3mb