Tokyo Begins

08:32 Paul Robinson 0 Comments

I was travelling to Tokyo via night bus. It was a new experience for me and it kept the travelling costs low but I was apprehensive. I needn't have been. The bus terminals are all easily found with comfy waiting rooms, a convenience store and free internet. It was a comfortable start to an inevitably uncomfortable night.

Day 1

I slept fitfully, twisting and turning in my chair but failing miserably to settle. We arrived in Shinjuku, Tokyo at 6am. I was so relieved to get off the bus, but I'd arrived safely and trouble-free. The morning twilight sky bled dark blue into the night's darkness. Towers rose skyward from every plot of land. I was feeling the excitement shake off the tiredness. I made my way to the metro.

It seems you need a degree in transport planning in order to navigate the public transport system in Tokyo. Luckily I have just that. There is so much information that its overwhelming and it was only after getting lost I realised that the maps didn't actually point north. School boy error.

Eventually I arrived at my hostel, where they let me check-in 7 hours early. I freshened up and made my way to the Senso-Ji Temple. I remember thinking the temple looked lovely, but the lack of sleep had quickly defeated me. Like a zombie in so many Japanese computer games, I wandered around dead-eyed. The one thing I wanted to take home with me was a ukioye-e woodblock print and I found a great store outside the temple. In my sleepless state I talked myself out of buying a print though, 1000 yen seemed like a lot of money when my budget wasn't that big anyway. I retired back to the hostel and a few hours sleep.

I spent the afternoon in Akihabara with the Otaku. The term Otaku refers to people who have obsessive interests. I guess it started off as a derogatory term, used by people who happily digested the entertainment society spoon-fed them. But much like our own terms like 'geek', Otaku have adopted the word as an emblem of their own.

The whole district of Akihabara if full skyscrapers, brimming with computer equipment, toys, costumes and anime. Here you can pimp your PC, collect coveted comics or buy that steam-punk costume you've been after.  Around the world, it's a very male trait to collect, modify and upgrade. It could be football stickers, cars or mobile phones. Here in Akihabara, it tends to be extremely graphic niche anime (use your imagination) and busty manga figurines. Don't get me wrong, I can't wait to start buying Lego for my kids one day but whilst I was there, I just couldn't quite become accustomed to seeing a 40 year old bloke buying toy dolls. Afterward, I had a coffee in a Gundam themed cafe. I have to admit the force of imagination is irrepressible. Even I was a bit excited to be sat inside what felt like the quarters of a spaceship. I can see why so many Japanese guys never truly grow up.

My first day in Tokyo was overwhelming. I wanted so much for it to be my favourite place in the world. Tokyo, the largest city in the world, will have something to satisfy everyone. Knowing where to begin was difficult though. Being there in the depths of winter meant that the city walking/cycling tour guides were hibernating and unavailable. What's more, guide books are written to try and satisfy every possible type of traveller resulting in a thin soup of suggestions rather than big juicy chunks of detail. In China, it's easy to find something interesting - people are friendly and easy to talk to and I can speak the lingo. Neither was possible in Tokyo. What was worse, I was in Tokyo on my lonesome and I didn't have the chance to share those little funny moments with someone. Tokyo hadn't been everything I'd hoped it would be.
 Day 2

A visit to Harajuku and Omotesando left my wallet significantly lighter after I went for it in the shops in one of Tokyo's coolest districts. Most cities have a few cool streets or an alternative area with the type of shops I like, whilst Harajuku is the size of a UK city centre. And it is literally full of decent guys clothes stores, bike shops, music shops etc. This is the first place I've ever been to where the guys clothing isn't an afterthought in a huge shop full of girls clothing. Some of it was expensive but I was revealed to see the majority of it was pretty affordable.

After a shopping binge, I visited Shinjuku to see the famous 'scramble', otherwise known as the busiest pedestrian crossing in the world. You can take the boy out of transport planning but you can't take transport planning out of the boy. Judging by the amount of people watching and photographing the pedestrian crossing, there is a little bit of transport planning in lots of people. I had a drink in a cafe overlooking the 'scramble' and every few minutes a different bloke would turn up with a camera in hand and a bemused girlfriend moaning in his ears.

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