Having experienced the differences Tokyo and typically Japan has to offer compared to western society, I thought I'd write about the best and worst parts of Tokyo. My week in Tokyo was quite an experience and fairly different from the other parts of Japan I visited. I really enjoyed Tokyo and the Khaosan Tokyo Kabuki hostel I stayed at began to feel like home. Given I had spent most days cycling from point to point it was nice to settle somewhere long enough for it to begin to feel familiar.
My Favourite Parts Of Tokyo
- Shibuya - a hugely popular area among young people, I would simply spend hours walking around the area. And when my legs got tired I would pop to the Starbucks (I know, I know) overlooking Shibuya crossing and sit upstairs. It is one of the best people watching seats in any city I've been to. While up there I recorded a video to show what it's like.
- Harajuku - not far from Shibuya, Harajuku wasn't quite as crazy as I expected in terms of fashion, but I still found it fascinating to walk around. It houses many of the strange fashions you see girls wearing around Tokyo, which includes the infamous school girl outfits.
- Fish Market - the largest fish market in the world, feeding the 32 million people of Tokyo. Once I got over the fish smell, it was fun (and vast) to walk around. I bought some raw tuna and attempted to make my own sushi (it was crap).
- Asakusa - where my hostel was located, the old red light district originally outside of Tokyo, but eventually engulfed by its expansion. It was a great place to start my trip in Tokyo, easing me into the culture. What it lacked in night life, it made up with cool shops and amazing restaurants.
Vending Machine Culture
The vending machine culture in Tokyo (and Japan as a whole) is quite crazy. They are on virtually every street corner, most commonly selling a selection of coffee (in a can), and fizzy drinks. You can also find machines that sell cigarettes, snacks, tokens for drinks in some bars, tokens for food in some restaurants and underwear. They work so brilliantly though I found myself using them all the time (for drinks, not pants). Every design consideration is taken care of. Even the flap you have to reach under to grab the drink has a slow return mechanism (like you see on some toilet seats) so it doesn't swing back and make a noise. Typically Japanese!
Given Tokyo doesn't have any night transportation (apart from the ludicrously priced taxis), one way of spending the night is in a capsule hotel. From asking around you can actually find an internet/gaming alternative where you rent a room to play console games in all night and finally sleep in a bed within the room. They are meant to be cheaper and don't have a no tattoo policy, whereas capsule hotels have a no tattoo policy. I had planned on spending one night in a capsule hotel while in Tokyo. You have to check in quite late, around 2300 onwards at a cost of 3000Y and are given a small capsule to sleep in. It's typically male only for safety reasons. Upon enquiring at one hotel and mentioning I had a tattoo I was told I would not be allowed! I made the mistake of not going into detail about the size or whereabouts of my tattoo (not an easy thing to do when you can't speak Japanese) as to be honest, given it's smallish size and position on my back, I don't think it would have been a problem. However, from what I'm told it is generally frowned upon in capsule hotels. Hence, it was an experience I missed out on.
I decided to lighten my load by sending a few things home, one of which was the Turkish carpet I bought in Istanbul. I set about finding brown parcel wrapping paper and selo-tape. A visit to the post office was a fruitless experience as they only post items and don't sell packaging, which seemed kind of odd. I managed to find a 100 Yen store (a crazy, yet awesome place!) and purchased all I needed there for around £2. Being in Japan though there's no such thing as plain wrapping paper. Among the hearts, strawberries and puppies I managed to find some polka-dot covered paper (as good as it gets). My wrapping skills were also mocked as the Japanese take time and care in perfectly wrapping a gift, whereas I went for the scrunched effect with selo-tape holding it together. It was functional, not aesthetic. The package weighed around 1.8kg and cost me 1800Y (£14) to send via slow air mail (2-3 weeks). Not bad!
All That's Wrong About Tokyo
The best way to experience everything wrong about Tokyo is to go to Roppongi. I made this mistake in choosing to go there for a night out instead of Shubiya. The streets are lined with (aggressive) Ghanians trying to lure you into bars/clubs (that sometimes cost £5-20 as entry, and £8 per bottle of beer) or to simply sell you a prostitute (why beat around the bush so to speak). Inside the bars, it is typically full of drunken, sleazy westerners, the sort that make you embarrassed that you're from the same country to the point you start apologising to the locals. There are also plenty of gold-digging Japanese women (J-diggers) looking for rich westerners, a few of which are nice, but on the whole they are nothing like the beautiful girls you see walking the streets of Tokyo. Instead they look slightly worn out (literally) and quite slutty, a long throw from the stereotypical cute, traditional Japanese girl. On entering our first club, Black Horse, a Japanese girl in a black dress came up, grabbed my hand and locked her fingers between mine, backed into my crotch, and then tried to walk away pulling me along. While it may sound like what dreams are made of, it wasn't and was a little too aggressive for my liking (a little small talk doesn't hurt). I instinctively unlocked my fingers and she walked off. Given the cheapest drink was £10, the cost of a table around £100 and I had £43 in my wallet, it was a financially astute decision. I wish I could compare Roppongi to somewhere else to give a better sense of what it's like, but nowhere comes to mind, especially not in London.
Bullet Train To Kyoto
My time was finally up, so I had to once again lug my bike and bags half way across Tokyo. Given the slightly lighter load (from posting nearly 2kg home) it wasn't such a bad experience. A ride on the metro, then JR line before arriving at Tokyo Main Station. It did leave me dripping in sweat though (as it's still 30C here and humid). The fastest train I've ever been on (up to 280kph), it took a little over two hours to travel around 500km (a little further than London to Newcastle)! The amount of leg room you get puts any premium airline to shame. The only negative point, is that the train travels so fast it's hard to see much of where you're travelling through!
Sad To Leave
I really enjoyed Tokyo. Possibly because it was nice to be in one place for a while, and in a vibrant city. But largely I think, because of the people, culture and fun I had absorbing everything around me. The giggles from the girls when trying to ask for something, the polite bowing, the non-aggressive atmosphere and how despite people knowing you can't understand Japanese as you leave a shop they still say something really long in Japanese (which probably equates to 'have a nice day'). The only thing I can compare Tokyo to is Manhattan but with a Japanese twist and a lot more people! Maybe one day I will return, although it is an expensive place to travel to and around. Working in Tokyo for a year may be a better idea!