Tokyo, Japan

The last stop in our Japan/Korea trip was Tokyo.

Tokyo is the city I wish New York was. Its layout is chaotic yet functional. Train tracks and different width roads wind in every direction. Sometimes you cross the street via crosswalk, sometimes via pedestrian overpass. The overpasses are wide and can stretch for many blocks, making parts of the city vertically layered. Tokyo is not shaped in a grid like Manhattan, but their well engineered train network makes it easy to get from point A to point B. The beauty of Tokyo is that there are enclaves of residential housing in the heart of busy areas. One can often disappear from the commercial street filled with lights, cars, and hordes of people by walking down an alleyway.

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The residential areas are small and quiet. The cars on the road are replaced by people on their bikes.1 Seeing the bikes and laundry hung outside on balconies2 while walking through the residential parts gives one the feeling that they're in a rural village.

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The first place we went to in Tokyo was 東京都庁, the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building. The building has two towers that give a 360 view of the city. The weather was right for us to be able to see Mount Fuji in the background behind the city. I learned that to remove glare from windows in camera shots you press your lens right up against the glass.

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And with Mount Fuji in the background.

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While walking around Tokyo we noticed what appeared to be large arcades with scantily dressed anime characters posted all over the walls. We learned these were casinos that offered the game pachinko, the Japanese equivalent of slots. I have nothing to compare these to since I have never been inside a casino in the US. But it was eerie walking into the pachinko stations. Older men and women who looked like their souls had been sucked out of them were staring at the machines while smoking cigarettes and monotonously pressing buttons.

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On one night we rounded up the energy to go out clubbing until 5am.3 It is not uncommon for people to stay out this late in Tokyo because the trains are closed between 2am-5am. We avoided the tourist4 facing clubs and found a club that looked local.

The club had lots of little rooms with hidden entrances that you could discover by roaming around. We wandered into a small room of ~twenty people where there was a nice balance of drinking, conversing, and dancing. The Japanese were incredibly friendly and tried hard to chat with us despite their minimal English and our nonexistent Japanese. Later in another room of the club, a stranger paid for our drinks while shouting "Welcome to Japan!" We talked with him for a bit and I think he said that the next day he was competing to be world number one in some iPhone game.

After leaving the club we found a bar that seemed to be populated only with friends of the owner. Unsure of whether or not we were welcome, we walked up the stairs to the seating area. There was one group of friends getting hammered together. One of the girls in the friend group asked us what we wanted to drink and then went downstairs to grab the drinks for us. After getting our beers she went back to get shots for the group. The next round they bought shots for us and we later returned the favor. They were very friendly and, like the people in the club, worked with the little English they spoke to have a conversation with us.

Outside the clubs we saw love hotels, hook up rooms available for rent. At the time of this picture 1 dollar ~= 107 yen.
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Our last days centered around our restaurant reservations. We had booked one night at a hotel so that the concierge service could reserve restaurants that required a Japanese person to speak on our behalf. The concierge had us sign a contract stating we would pay in full and miss our dinner if we did not show up on time to our reservations.

The restaurants we went to are designed for the efficient serving of freshly prepared food. The guests sit at a bar facing the cooking staff. The master chef(s) prepares the food in front of the guests and the cooking staff serves everyone the same dish as soon as its ready. The waiting staff stands behind the guests at full attention replacing their tea, water, wasabi, ginger, etc.

The food was delicious at all of the restaurants, but the cost varied wildly. We had just as good an experience when we paid $60 per meal as when we paid $150 per meal.

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Tokyo was my favorite place we went to during the trip. I was not as trigger happy there with my camera as I was at our prior destinations, maybe because I was enjoying my time more. I'd be happy to live there.

Let's end with a friendly looking samurai on a horse.

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  1. In Japan no one locks their bike. As far as I know, it is impossible to leave a bike unlocked in any major city in the US without it being stolen. []
  2. Dryers are apparently less popular here than they are in the US. []
  3. I am normally not found of staying out late nor being in over packed clubs. When I first was living in Costa Rica I would go to bars early and chat up the few people there and then leave when the crowd started to arrive. []
  4. We found out to our dismay that the Rugby World Cup was being hosted in Japan during our stay. So there was a high number of burly English/Aussie/New Zealand lads loudly roaming the streets at night. []

4 Responses to “Tokyo, Japan”

  1. Diana Coman says:

    You know, the walking people + residential mix is rather common throughout Europe+Asia. It's really more of an American peculiarity this total separation & no walking.

  2. whaack says:

    I'm sure there are many more of these cases of 'village boy impressed by elevator' to come as I explore more outside of my American bubble. Ty for informing me of my perhaps unwarranted awe. With that said, I imagine one'd be hard pressed to find the level of contrast between calm residential area / crowded city street as I came across in Tokyo.

  3. Diana Coman says:

    Ah, it wasn't against awe or putting you down or anything like that. Simply pointing out that the context there is different and as such there might be more to take in from it.

  4. whaack says:

    Well in sincerity I welcome you to point out when a new experience is something truly rare or perhaps something that is impressive/shocking/strange to me only because I have not yet seen so much of the world. (Not that I expect you need that welcoming) How else could I ever hope to develop a refined taste?

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