Tokyo.. Arriving at Tokyo I found out that I’m not actually staying in Tokyo but in Kashiwa, a small satellite town of several hundred thousand inhabitants. However, the connection to Tokyo is good with a fast train taking you into down town Tokyo within almost 20 minutes. Tokyo is large and confusing, in so many aspects. It didn’t help that my smart phone died a day before I left and my constant companion gps+googlemaps suddenly was no longer available to me. When I was sightseeing with others, this was not much of an issue, I simply let them take the lead, but when I was by myself it became a measure challenge.
My first night in Tokyo was spent in Akihabara the ‘electric town’. Though I don’t remember so much the electric as the maid-bars, the casinos and hentai stores. By this I don’t mean to say it’s a shady place, quite the opposite. Literally. Akihabara is lit by a thousand neon light advertisements, which make the night bright as the day and while this is unusual for someone that comes from a country that has clear legal limitations for the brightness of advertisements, it is not what struck me most. It’s the noise. Every advertisement seems to be supported by some type of music or spoken message and, of course, you want yours to be louder than your neighbours. There’s a cacophony of noises going on that is insane and when you enter one of the gambling places it becomes unbearable. A starting air plane makes less noise than the music playing in those places. It’s a special kind of hell. I assume the noise level is so high that it is impossible for you to actually tell whether there’s someone sitting and playing at the next slot machine or not. But it makes me wonder why people would stay there out of their own free will.
That’s another thing that I’ve been finding weird in Japan. The noises and sometimes lack thereof. Every store will play music in Japan. But not just one type, there will be at least three or four different sources of music competing with each other and while you can only hear one source in some parts of the store, most of the time you’ll have an overlay of three or four songs. For a country that’s famous for their ‘zen gardens’ this seems to be a very contradictory thing to do.
The evening in Akihabara was fun though, the forest of neon lights is definitely a must see and this is also were we got thanked for visiting Japan. It was great fun. The next day I set out to do the ‘main sights’ of Tokyo.. As it turns out Tokyo is shopping heaven but has few truly touristy spots to offer. One that’s definitely very touristy is the Sensei-ji temple in Asakusa (pronounced A-sak’sa). There’s long lines of stalls leading to it where you can buy anything from Geisha costumes to ice cream and the temples itself is completely overrun. I didn’t spend much time there, as it did not talk to me at all. The next stop was the Meiji Shrine, which touched me. It is probably the single most beautiful thing I’ve seen in Tokyo. It’s set in a large, large forest in the middle of Tokyo, the entrance is shown by huge gates, called torii. Right away at the entrance of the woods I knew what I had been missing.
Both in Tokyo and in Kashiwa; There’s a total lack of animal noises. No birds, no rats, no nothing. It’s eerie. It was another first for me: To be in a city so huge that the animals have gone into hiding (because for sure the rats where there, but I didn’t see or hear them). Entering the forest of the Meiji-Shrine the birds return and sing their song. The gates are made of dark cedar wood and lead the way to the shrine itself. You walk through a forest of giant cedar trees for about 20min (if you stop for pictures a lot) before reaching the temple itself. It is the typical low-roofed temple building you would expect, with a large, open area at the front. That area is perfect to be on the look out for traditional clothing. The Japanese still like to dress up traditionally, especially when visiting shrines and there’s little that’s cuter than a tiny girl showing off her kimono there. I had a blast just watching and listening. You can’t hear the city when you’ve reached the temple. It’s just birds and trees.
After taking in the old Tokyo, I wanted to see some of the new Tokyo as well. For that I went to Shibuya, well actually, I went to Shibuya first and walked to the Meiji temple and from there to Shinjuku. In retrospect I can recommend everyone to please, please, please do it the other way round. Shinjuku is Tokyo’s largest railway station with an estimated one million passengers DAILY. It has over 30 exits and three separate “southern” areas alone (not to mention the western, northern and and eastern regions): “New south”, “south” and “south west”. It took me over two hours to find the subway line that was supposed to get me out of there. But there’s on thing one should definitely do in Shinjoku and that’s the sky scrapers. They are amazing, from the Metropolitan Government Office one can have a look out onto the city from the 45th floor and gaze at the other sky scrapers that have cropped up around it. It’s all very new and modern and chic. It’s absolutely worth a visit, even if it’s hard to grab an adequate picture because you are behind windows that reflect a lot and that’s pretty much all I had time to see in Tokyo. If I had had more time I probably would’ve picked a different day for the skyscrapers, as the covered sky makes them look pretty drab. From what I’ve seen it’s an interesting city and you can probably spend anything from a day to a year visiting sights there!