Bright Lights of Tokyo

Thu, 01 May 2008 00:01:12 +0000

Osaka Index Singapore. Joy.

Two halves of the day today. The morning was spent travelling to Tokyo, with the pitstop in Kyoto to pick up my misplaced towel. This Japan Rail Pass thing is great. I've long since given up the quaint idea of booking tickets in advance: just turn up, buy a ticket, and get whisked along at 300 km/h. Wanna stop off to pick up a towel? No problem. Another shinkansen will be along in half an hour, and another one half an hour after that.

I'm running out of "must try" Japanese delicacies to eat before I leave, so I'm down to the list of "that looks interesting"s. In this case, an omelette stuffed with fried rice and covered in curry sauce. Might not sound, or look, very appetising, but it hit the spot. In fact, I'd only criticise it as being a little dull. Clearly I've been too long in Japan already.

That left me with an afternoon for touristing. Last time I was in Tokyo I concentrated more on the traditional palacey / shriney aspect of the city, but Tokyo's surely more famous for the bright lights and skyscrapers. So this time I went to gawk at its Asian citiness. First up, skyscrapers. It was off to Shinjuku for that:

Yep, those are skyscrapers, all right. What sets these ones apart from the ones in Sydney? Well, the fact that the tallest one is actually the Metropolitan government's hive-mind, and you can go up to the observation deck for free. On the spur of the moment, I decided to sit in the bar with an overpriced glass of wine and enjoy the view for a bit. This here, this is what I call a view:

After making my way back down again, I had one chore to complete: buy a stamp so I can send a postcard to Volker. This turned out to be astonishingly hard. The area is very well served by local area map signs at regular intervals, showing which shops are available in the basements of which skyscrapers. These maps claim that at least half the skyscrapers have post offices in them. But you actually get there, and they don't. This triggers some dusty memories I have about the Japanese postal system, which is also a government-owned bank and gateway to all government services. Apparently this is why there are post offices everywhere. But like the British post system, it's going broke. So maybe I'm just unlucky enough to visit between them shutting down half their branches and updating their local area map signs. I eventually did find my stamp. Does it really only cost 70 yen to send a postcard to Germany? I have my doubts that I bought the right one.

Anyway, I recovered my strength at Starbucks (I have not yet found any Japanese drinks that are both interesting and tasty, so I'm drinking coffee and beer). I'd done skyscrapers, next up was bright lights. Apparently Shibuya is the place to go for that. At the opposite end of Tokyo from Shinjuku, so it was a long subway journey there.

Walking out the Hachiko station exit, you are immediately confronted with a wonderfully ant-hive-like five-way intersection jam-packed with pedestrians. It's great to watch the lights change and the torrent of people get unleashed. I also took a photo of the statue of the dog. There's a very twee story behind Hachiko the dog, which you can look up if you want. I prefer Slough's Station Jim. He's got that earthy quality (or I guess that might just be mould).

It was still only five o'clock, and not dark enough for the neon lights to be interesting. So I took the opportunity to walk down to Harajuku and gawk at the girls Gwen Stefani is always warbling about. According to Wikipedia the place is really only interesting on Sundays, but I still saw some fairly wackily-dressed punks (whom I declined to photograph, on the grounds that I don't know if it's the done thing). Harajuku fashions seem to rotate pretty rapidly, so I can't tell if the "gothic French maid fetish" girls were the latest wave, or simply some odd marketing campaign. But then, is there really any difference?

Wikitravel suggested - nay, insisted - that I try a Harajuku crepe, so while I waited for the sun to go down I did this next. Hmm, which flavour to choose:

I'd already eaten quite a lot for the day, and had to leave room for dinner. Also, they didn't look awfully healthy. So I needed something fairly light. Accordingly, I merely ordered the banana, whipped cream, chocolate sauce, ice cream and cheesecake crepe. I'm practically dieting here.

I retreated to a secluded corner to shovel that lot into my face. There I was unfortunately cornered by a garrulous American hipster of exactly the type who moves to Japan because it's just so much cooler than anything in the West. You know, with like the manga and stuff. OK, I'm being mean: he was friendly, and it was nice to speak proper English for a bit. It's just that I couldn't get a word in edgeways. And I can't help feeling that if you're an interesting person with a unique and fresh perspective on life, you're probably not going to spend your spare time hanging out in Takeshita street. After all, you might be mistaken for a poser, and that would be dreadful.

I'm a bitter man at heart, really.

So with the sun setting I returned to Shibuya to get a proper meal. This I found in a basement on a sidestreet somewhere, at a place which seemed to specialise in spicy food. But this time, and now I'm serious, I actually managed to get something reasonably light. A weird thing: pancake on one side, omelette on the other, cut into wedges and with a soy dipping sauce. It was delicious and just what the doctor ordered. To help flush out the earlier excesses, I got two beers to go with it. They were extra super stupidly cold, which is all to the good, because that meant I couldn't taste them. Damn lager again.

By this time it was dark enough to take this shot:

Wikipedia says that Shibuya puts Picadilly Circus and Times Square to shame, but then I always found those two pretty disappointing. Shibuya is much more what bright lights are supposed to look like.

And then back to the hostel. After all, I had a free beer waiting for me! Asahi black again: I failed to spot that there was actually quite an impressive list of drinks I could have ordered. So I actually paid for some sake to follow, since I am in Japan after all. That's quite a lot of alcohol for the day, now I come to think of it.

During the middle of this session, a couple who seemed to have been just married dropped in to celebrate. Every random person in the bar, including myself, was issued with a bouquet of flowers which we then handed to the bride. There were a few complicated clapping and shouting ceremonies, and some toasts. I didn't know what the hell was going on, but smiling, bowing, and doing what everyone else is doing will get you a long way in Japan. I left when they started holding sculling competitions. That's gonna get ugly real fast, and I have a plane to catch tomorrow.

Osaka Index Singapore. Joy.