We spent the first week of the new year exploring the hectic neon-concrete wilderness of Tokyo. The whole city seemed to be booked out and we struggled to find accommodation, but eventually we were lucky to be able to rent an apartment right near Tokyo Tower for the few days we were there. We squeezed a lot of sightseeing into our days, so this blog is going to be highlight-reel-esque with many photos to avoid boredom-induced comas.
Tokyo Tower & One Piece
By some bizarre stroke of luck, the one day that we went to Tokyo Tower was the day that the One Piece Tower area was free to enter. I’ve never watched or read One Piece personally but the others had, and it was still very interesting even having very little context of the story. The tower itself was as expected – a high point with a great view. I thought it was part of a construction site when I first saw it, painted in traffic-cone orange and white, but apparently it is regulation regarding planes passing overhead. We watched the sun set over Mt Fuji, 100kms away, and saw the city begin to light up at night.
Visiting the Emperor
By (another) stroke of luck, the second day we were in Tokyo was one of only two days a year when the emperor of Japan makes an address and the Imperial Palace is open to the public. We lined up for hours with hundreds of other people in the sun – the emperor makes several addresses during the day so the hordes were directed into the palace ground in segments.
When the emperor did appear – with his wife, and his children and their spouses – the response was huge. Everyone was given paper Japanese flags during the long wait, and everyone raised them and waved them when they saw the emperor. No one made another sound though – no cheering, or clapping, just the sound of paper snapping furiously as people waved their flags with enthusiasm. The speech lasted less than a minute, and of course we understood almost nothing except the greeting. Still, a unique experience and I’m glad we were able to see this.
Famous for its game arcades and electronics shops, Akihabara was a lot of bright lights and loud sounds. My favourite was ‘Super Potato’ – several floors of vintage games and gear, and an old school kind of arcade on the top floor! Played Galaga, did not fail too miserably. Lots of fun.
The famous crossing. I saw it with the family during our brief Tokyo stopover, but it didn’t particularly impress me. Manic, fast-moving crowds are something I tend to try and avoid… interesting to see, but not really my kind of thing as far as sightseeing goes.
Tsukiji Fish Market
Not really much of a fish person, especially when they’re swimming in shallow styrofoam boxes or staring at you with dead eyes from an icebox. But, they also had mochi. And the fish was obviously lovely and fresh!
I’m not normally one for big-city madness, but Shinjuku was one of my favourite places in Tokyo. Somehow a nicer atmosphere than Shibuya, still lots of lights and people and things to see. And Godzilla.
Harajuku & Meiji Jingu
Harajuku, especially the main shopping street, is a carnival fairground on steroids. Neon and noise and glitter and grunge. Shoulder-to-shoulder crowds in narrow streets. A lot of crepes.
Right next door to the Harajuku mania – a peaceful walk through the forest to Meiji Jingu (although, we were there during the first few days of the year, so it was also a bit insane).
Tokyo’s oldest temple, in Asakusa, was also packed for the few days after the beginning of the New Year. The enormous red lantern at the gate, the smell of incense, the pressing crowds of people, the busy market lanes leading to the temple.
Wrestle Kingdom 11
A high point of Trystan’s travel itinerary while he visited me was this event – the Wrestlemania of New Japan Wrestling, perhaps? I don’t feel qualified to make that kind of comparison. In any case, it was a very atmospheric event and interesting to see – held at the Tokyo Dome, it is always exciting to be part of an event with such a massive and enthusiastic crowd.
A long post – if you stayed until the end, thank you! Tokyo was a nice pace to visit but I think we were all grateful that our study program and life in Japan are based in Kansai – Tokyo is so big and hectic, and it’s people are, overall, quite different to the people we interact with in Osaka and around.