Monday, September 24, 2012
It would be frugal of me to say that Japan is a complete dichotomy of extremes.
On the one hand you have Tokyo - a living, breathing neon and concrete thing that hums and emits noise at any time of the day or night. On the other, you have the rural side to Japan, comprising peaceful thousand years old heritage in gardens, temples and forest.
If I'm going to be brutally frank, I thought I'd love Tokyo a little bit more. That's not to say the place doesn't make it to my top ten; it's far too unique, CLEAN (you could lick the concrete all day long if you were so inclined) and just insane not to be put up there with the world's greatest cities.
I wasn't disappointed, it just wasn't how I thought it was going to be. I think.
Shibuya Crossing. The largest pedestrian crossing in the world, setting the template for other cities to copy the 'X' design (as seen at Oxford Circus now, in London.) Also a recognised scene from Lost In Translation. Think thousands of people walking in all directions across an intersection at one time.
If one's thing for sure, this place must be fucked during a black out. The city swarms and swirls with lights, moving neon, the billboards being the posters that make it seem alive. It pulses, quite literally, and many of these billboards emit noises. People singing (it's an acquired sound), to blaring music, advertising, this place not only comes alive at night, it leaps from it's usually urbane concrete existence, becomes a drag queen and entertains it's minions all night long.
I wanted to see Tokyo because I happen to like neon and concrete. It was all consuming, pretty much as I thought. Plus a humidity of around 60%, 30 degrees (don't cope well in such conditions), you're left with your head spinning. Wasn't puking this time though, like in France, which was a nice breakthrough.
There's little recompense, we pounded the concrete for days, people watching (read: openly gawping), dipping in to sing karaoke (when we knew how to work the machines and they were in English. We only got one song out in our first session, the rest of the time was used working out how the fuck it worked.)
You can sing karaoke while eating sushi, have drinks delivered to your booth, and in some cases, you can sing karaoke in a hot tub with a waterproof microphone.
There's an endless supply of completely fucked up shit to do in Tokyo. You can book into a "love" hotel, get dressed like a French maid, and get your morning cereal from a vending machine the next morning.
You can buy face masks that contain snake venom or snail slime as standard.
Then there's 'Golden Gai.' It's an area set up like stalls in a flea market, except they're all bars. Bars the size of stalls, each with their own theme through hundreds of little passageways. They are roughly 2 metres x 4 metres, with enough sitting room for 4 people. You wind through the stalls and then dip in if the "theme" takes your fancy.
Bar hopping, but on a micro level.
You'll see things in Tokyo pretty much one every .8 seconds that will just strike you as a little bizarre. It's usually a person and how they're dressed (Harajuku area, which deserves it's own blog post, believe me), or a piece of art, or something someone's eating.
Or the fact that smoking is banned from public streets in some areas (Shinjuku, for example), warranting a 3000 Yen fine, and yet you can smoke inside any building, or hotel lobby, pub, restaurant that you like. People follow the rules - you won't see any cigarette butts on the streets. Not one.
It's all about the air outside. They try to contain the pollution inside. Genius?
Or like when we stumbled across a massive Belgian beer festival. Dude. In Japan. They were going MAD for it.
Tokyo is immense. It's not what I imagined, because I was probably comparing it in my mind to south-east Asian cities I've seen (Bangkok or Saigon or Kuala Lumpur.) Those cities have their charms, but are polluted and haphazard. Tokyo isn't like that. It's an extremely well-run machine, it's clean and it's a place that has constantly regenerated itself. Everything is new and state-of-the art.
It's one of the most interesting, weird places I've ever seen. And I'm so lucky to have had the opportunity.
Would I go back? Obviously. I never got to sing in that hot tub.