Tokyo: The Big Japple.

Trip Start Mar 15, 2008
Trip End Oct 02, 2009

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Flag of Japan  ,
Friday, April 11, 2008

Ben Reporting: Finally, we arrive in Tokyo, one of the world's monster cities, an unstoppable surge of life and movement. City of 12.9 million people. For general comparison, Sydney has about 4.6 million and both London and New York have just less than ten (not combined). So Tokyo is a big place, in fact it's so big you can see Mount Fuji from its centre on a clear day, though apparently, due to haze and smog, clear days are rare.

We arrive in Tokyo at about 3 pm, from Osaka after a three-hour train ride. We find our hostel by about 4:30, and find we have a squishy room not much bigger than the half-a-rich-mans-closet we had in Kyoto. But we are, as per usual, just happy to have a bed and a base. We go for lunch/dinner at KFC, you know, to try the local cuisine (I think Leah had the Asian style chicken pieces or something) before heading out into the main city centre of Tokyo.

We wander out of the Tokyo train station into the early evening twilight, stretching a beautiful deep blue as night stains the city. The Tokyo train station itself is about twice as tall as any building in Adelaide, I'm not sure if all of those floors are for the train companies or if they're rented out by other businesses, but it's still pretty huge just for a train station. (Please read about the sheer wonderment of the Japan rail system in Tokyo part two).

We walk around the central part of Tokyo, which stretches for several blocks either way and is dominated by an endless squint of neon lights. I walk around in awe at the immensity of the place, the size of the buildings and extravagance from Louis Vitton to Dolce and Gabbana to the Sony building to an endless array of bars and other fashion shops. We eventually stumble upon the Sapporo beer house, which is three floors of bars and restaurants, and we decide to stop for a drink of the local brew. On the second floor we order a large Yebitsu and a medium Sapporo, both with outsize your typical imperial pint. We end up chatting to a family of English tourists and have a lovely natter for about an hour. The experienced Japanese travellers that they are, they give us some good tips for sights to see around Tokyo.

And so, the next day, we find ourselves crawling out of bed at 5:45 am. So, what could possibly be worth getting out of bed for at that ridiculous hour on a Saturday, you may ask? Especially for a couple of unemployed, lazy backpackers?

Well, about an hour and a half later, we found ourselves at the lively squirm-fest that is the Tokyo fish market! We entered through doors that might be the entry for a gigantic industrial warehouse, dodging numerous urgently speeding forklifts and stock carts. As we dived out of the way of the market traffic, which sped boxes of fresh fish to the top restaurants in Tokyo, we entered a warehouse, bigger than any I've seen (okay, I don't go into many warehouses, but still...) and began to wander down the isles of this early rising market. Think of those images you see of the real stock markets and try and transport them to a busy fish market in downtown Tokyo. Rows perhaps 1km long of market stalls, bumper to bumper with buyers and tourists and the most odd and amazing variety of marine stock you could find. One of the first sights we see is a Styrofoam box filled with ice and some long octopus tentacles protruding out each side. There are tuna over 3 feet long, tiger prawns en masse, box upon box upon box of both small and large squid. Some of the fish is so fresh it's still flapping in its display case. We find boxes of crabs, covered in what looks like sawdust, still alive but foaming at the mouth as they struggle to breathe their last breath. We see fish that look like rocks and other things we've never seen before, which barely look edible. In fact, we spend close to an hour traipsing up and down the aisles discovering an array of new aquatic life and also discovering that this array can apparently be eaten. After leaving the overly-early and overly-lively fish market, we head out for a fish free breakfast at a coffee shop. So the long day begins.

We travel then to Electric town, also known as Akihabara, an area where you can find almost any mainstream electronic toy you can imagine. The block or so that is Electric town has an endless choice of cameras, TV's, I-pods + accessories, whitegoods, computers and software, shavers, CD's, DVD's and on and on. Unfortunately we weren't in the market for any electronic goods so only ended up buying a new set of headphones each. I was also disappointed that they didn't have much in the way of unnecessary Japanese electronics - you know like spectacles that transform into a pizza cutter or umbrellas that capture rain and turn it into drinking water (this idea is now copyright me). The most bizarre thing we saw was what first appeared to be a mechanical bull but turned out to be a ridiculous new ab exerciser.

After Electric town we head to the Harajuku region of Tokyo, the trendy youth and youth shopping district. When we arrive it seems that about 12 million of the 12.9 have also decided to be here today, as I've never seen so many people out in public in the one place for something as banal and uneventful as fashion shopping. Just imagine the Royal Show showbag hall at 7pm on a Saturday night and times it by ten. The shops have some pretty cool stuff in them, the very best of new youth fashion and enough pairs of spray on pants to suffocate all the giraffes left in the world. We squeeze our way through this shopping throng, almost suffocating ourselves at some points, and we quickly realise that the spectacle is not the shops or the fashion, but the people, their look and their sheer volume. I am currently writing this in LA, and the Harajuku region in Tokyo makes Beverly Hills and Sunset Boulevard look like desperate ghost towns.

We eventually extract ourselves from the masses, and, finding ourselves near exhaustion and with time quickly slipping away, we head for the Tokyo Municipal Government Building. This particular location, found in the 'Skyscraper District', as it's known, gives visitors free 360-degree view of Tokyo the 45th floor. As far as the eye can see is a Pacific ocean's worth of man made structures, and, if you squint, you can make out the outline of more Skyscrapers in the distance, home to another city centre much further out. On one side it was just clear enough to make out mountains, their hazy black outlines, but it almost seems like a mirage.

Finally we crawl home, at about 6:30 pm, having been awake and tourist-ing for over 12 hours. We get cheap Bento boxes from the Seven-Eleven around the corner and at some point pass out from exhaustion.

The following day is our last in Tokyo. We awake and check out of our broom closet, put our backpacks in lockers at a train station and head out for one last look at Japan. We seek out what is listed in our Lonely Planet Japan guide as a 'Godzilla Statue', somewhere in central Tokyo, hoping to finally find an example of real Japanese history and culture. We're surprised that we haven't seen this monstrous statue towering in amongst the buildings, and as we turn each corner, we look for the monster's form hiding, waiting for us. To our disappointment, after we finally seek the beast out, the statue turns out to be hidden in some random city backstreet, and stands about a metre tall!

Anyway, we then head to another Japanese giant, the Sony building, where the public can visit the 5 floors of electronics and discover the latest that Sony has to offer. It's sort of a play zone for adult electronic aficionados, where the next big thing is being put on display. The most impressive things we saw included a camera that only takes your picture when you smile, and a new MP3 player called Rolly that looks like a giant toy egg, and dances in time to any song it plays. I know it sounds stupid, but first hand it was actually really cool. I guess you'll have to wait to see what I mean.

After that we board a train for Narita, a suburb that neighbours the Tokyo airport, and book into a Ryokan for the night to await our flight to Los Angeles the following day.

A Ryokan is unique to Japanese culture. A hotel room of sorts, the Ryokan is a room that embodies all the trimmings of Japanese culture. The white screens, the beds and table low to the ground, view of a Japanese garden - you feel you're being transported to ancient Japan. Plus we enjoy our last taste of the Hot Baths in the Ryokan's private bathhouses (separate male and female).

And finally our Japan journey ends. We fly out at around 5 pm; our flight is almost on time (only 10 minutes late), which is the best so far. It is also our longest flight, nearly 9 and a half hours, right across the Pacific and the turbulence is horrific for the first hour, perhaps a metaphor for the turbulent land of adventure, promise and risk we are venturing to. Please see our next instalment for our summing up of Japan. Cheers!
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ewie on

Oh I'm jealous now - one of my things to do last year was to see the Godzilla statue... I knew it was small but I still wanted to see it. Sounds like you guys had a great time there though.

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