So I took a detour on my route to finishing up my days in Melbourne, by heading to Tokyo for 6 days to visit my little sister. So just a casual trip really. And oh yeah, it was EPIC. Here are some highlights.
The tourist stuff
Did you know that you can hire go-karts to drive along the busy roads of Tokyo whilst dressed as a Super Mario character? Yes, on the main road, inches from the ground alongside regular cars who are too high up to see you in their rear view mirrors. Although dangerous, it was extremely entertaining to watch at the Shibuya crossing at night.
Now, if you’re more of a day wanderer, you can rent a kimono when you visit the shrines, or anywhere really, for a more fulsome Japanese experience. It wasn’t for me personally, as it feels a lot like an active attempt at cultural appropriation, but I am not one to judge another tourist – I was astounded by pretty much everything I saw.
Visiting any of the shrines or temples is a must, especially in good weather. If for no other reason than to pay homage and find out your fortune. Me personally, I received a “small fortune”, which basically said that if I changed anything in my life or tried to achieve something in the coming days, I was sure to fail or have a really tough time trying. Thank God everything is staying the same for me and I have no plans to move back to my country of birth in the next week (see: sarcasm).
The unique stuff
Looking for a shop dedicated to clothes for your pets? Maybe you’re interested in 101 uses for a brush? Or you’ve always been curious about exactly how many different types of towels you could possess if you wanted to? Tokyo is the answer to all these questions and many more, especially the ones you never thought to ask.
One of my favourite, uniquely Tokyo things, was discovering that every train station had its own happy little tune whenever the train arrived on the platform. To me, each tune sounded like it was from a Studio Ghibli film, but I have been assured that I am wrong. Either way, it was a pleasant break from the regular alarm warning sounds I am used to hearing on London and Melbourne train platforms.
One of the best and unique things about the city, and Japan as a whole really, is the food. I could literally write a whole other blog about the food, but I won’t, because it’s just not as fun as eating the actual food. Everything I tasted that I thought I wouldn’t like, I loved. Who knew you could do so many more interesting things with egg, and that I, a lifelong hater of eating seafood, could fall in love with sushi? Thank you Tokyo, thank you.
The city in itself, is a unique, think-outside-the-box place, with creativity coming out of its ears, matched only by its strict rule following and polite attitude on the day to day. I don’t think I’ve ever said thank you so much in such a short period of time before.
The other stuff
This is a city that is at its core, a dichotomy. You’ve got attention to detail and people working succinctly on one craft their entire lives to become the best at it; usually something with a vast amount of creativity and intelligence like sushi-making, crafts, artwork, or architecture, to name a few. These are people that seem to go against the grain of uniformity; against the expectations of going to work for one company for the rest of your adult life. These people stand out and are a big chunk of why Tokyo is so fascinating.
But there is also this worship of youth like nothing I have seen before. I didn’t see one woman over 30 years old in any of the product marketing around, unless they were someone’s mother or grandmother. And there is a lot of marketing. Just walk through the ward of Shibuya, a very central, touristy area, and you will be pelted with bright, bright lights and advertisements for films, games, music, insurance, sleep masks – you name it, they’re advertising it.
Behind all that noise and wonder however, are maid cafes, male-only establishments like Soapland, and video game shops where most anime characters on display are large-butted, big-breasted women with the faces of 12 year olds. As disturbing as that particular imagery was however, what really shocked me was going into a Japanese Idol merchandise shop, where my sister (my tour guide and translator) explained that all the merchandise with prints of various “famous” teenage girls on them, which I had assumed was geared towards tweens, was actually scooped up by middle aged men. I was in disbelief until I looked around and realised that apart from the two of us women, there were two middle aged men perusing the shop, who both looked a hard 40+.
The ongoing desire for women to take on a, let’s say, younger demeanor, left me wondering about the kinds of societal pressures that Japanese women most likely face on the day to day, especially as no one stays young forever and being subservient is really not everyone’s cup of tea. This is definitely a subject that requires further investigation; specifically Kawaii culture – and has been written about extensively.
Tokyo was a fascinating place and I would definitely like to go back for longer, to explore more of Japan, to learn more about the culture of a place with so many technological advancements, that still also has flip phones and fax machines (it literally boggles my mind). For now though, I’ll hold on to my fond memories of that legitimately weird and wonderful city.