Tokyo: Japan of the future
Trip Start Oct 06, 2008
38Trip End Apr 18, 2009
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For pun opportunities galore, we appropriately arrived "the land of the rising run" at dawn, and traveled by train through the morning mist, to Tokyo just as the sun was indeed rising. We struggled for a while at first, batteling through the language barrier and adjusting to the sheer enormity of the city, but we finally found a hostel (with the help of a tourist information office) in the district of Asakusa. Since we only had three days in Tokyo, we wanted to make the most of every second, so we quickly freshened up and headed out as soon as we could! The evening was spent in the neon-lit Akihabara, a fantastic shopping area known as 'Electric Town', marvelling at the kitch shops selling manga (Japanese comics), anime (Japanese animation), video games and electronics. It was a perfect place for a Japanese 'Otaku' (a term that roughly translates to 'geek'), so I fitted right in!
After a dizzying evening in Akihabara, we finished the day in a Yakitori restaurant (a Japanese specialty of barbequed chicken skewers with different sauces). It sounded appealing, although we should have guessed that it wouldn't be quite so appetizing to our Western tastes when the waiter asked how well we wanted our chicken to be cooked... It came to the table looking delicious; however one bite revealed that the meat was certainly far from the "well done" that we asked for. Our meat was fleshy, soft and pink, which arose the question - did the "rare" option come to the table clucking on the skewer?!
Early the next day, we went to Tokyo's downtown district, Shinjuku, and were taken aback by the amount of enormous, modern skyscrapers. Wanting a birds eye view, we visited the Tokyo Metropolitan Government building to see the city stretching out towards the distant mountains (even Mount Fuji can be seen on a clear day). On the top floor of the building was a bizarre toy and novelty shop selling all sorts of weird products, including 'Barack Obama' chocolates! The next district on the agenda was Shuibuya, famous for its youth culture and nightlife. As we stepped out of the train station, we were faced by an enormous, manic 'scramble' crossing (where traffic from all direction stops to allow hundreds of people to cross simultaniously), huge buildings adorned with enormous plasma TV screens, and unique department stores (one in particular selling all sorts of bizarre and colourful clothes). After a couple of hours exploring the district, we went for dinner in a Japanese noodles restaurant. Although slightly put off by the loud slurping from all directions, we both enjoyed the food and had fun trying to perfect the art of chopsticks! In need of some after dinner entertainment - and since the Japanese invented it - we went searching for a karaoke bar! Suspiciously, this one seemed to be very different to the ones we have back home. We were informed by a lady that the karaoke was upstairs on the third floor, but once there we were puzzled to find a long corridor with several doors on each side, all carrying a 'karaoke' sign. We pushed one open, and were suprised to see that this "karaoke bar" was indeed far from any of the ones back home. Instead of fat, drunk women singing Tina Turner classics, there were private, secluded booths installed with the latest karaoke equippment and heavy sound proofing! We paid for an hour of karaoke, sang (well, shouted and rapped in my case!), then received a phonecall from a polite woman informing us our hour was over and that we had to leave! We stopped in a bar on the way back to the hostel, for quick drink to soothe our tired throats, then retured for a well earned rest!
With another full day planned, we woke up early and visited Ginza, a posh shopping district in central Tokyo. Amongst the tall, glitzy Armani and Gucci scyscrapers was the most exciting building of all (for me atleast!), the Sony Building! It showcases all the latest technology and gadgets of the future, and we spent a whole morning exploring its four floors! After spending most of the day in Ginza, we took a futuristic, driverless train, over to Odaiba island - a modern, artificial island, purposly built to be the ''entertainment'' district of Tokyo. We walked around the island for a while, marvelling at its incredible buildings of experimental architecture (a highlight was the impressive Fuji building, built as a network of metallic tubes connected together, straddled by an enormous metallic sphere); the shopping mall; the restaurants with fantastic views of Tokyo across the water; a small replica of the Statue of Liberty; a colourful neon ferris wheel; and an indoor amusement park. After an eventful day, we made our way back to the hostel, but stopped at the Park Hyatt hotel in order to sneak a peek at the bar where they filmed a lot of the film 'Lost in Translation' (one of my favourite films). Unfortunetley, they were charging an enormous cover charge, so we had to leave - but not without a quick souveneir photograph!
The next day, we visited a nearby robot shop where we played with some interesting and intelligent machines, before departing on the high speed 'bullet' train to Kyoto. The ultra-modern, sleek and slimline train whizzed at an incredible speed of 270km/h - a fitting farewell to futuristic Tokyo!