Japan | Last Asian Adventure: Tokyo

Our departure from Kyoto happened on the perfect day, as it was too dreary to do much more than sit in a surprisingly luxurious bus piled to the nines with obscure snacks. Japan’s scenery is exquisitely pretty, filled with rolling hills covered in lush greens and purples. And the air is clear! Such an agreeable change from China. Unfortunately, it turns out that finding anything in Tokyo is really, really difficult, especially on a rainy night. It took us countless hours and stops to find our hotel after walking in the rain to the point of desperation. On the bright side, it seems to be a nice place and is conveniently on the metro line – all of which could be on their website, but is not.

Our first day in Tokyo was much better, by the time we figured out the extensive metro system, which is actually three separate systems. It felt like Lost in Translation when Charlotte stares blankly at the crazy metro map on the wall, knowing full well that she will likely never figure it out. Luckily for us, our first destination was not far, so we made it out unscathed, but very much awed by the silence of the metro cars, where nobody does much talking or moving. Electric City was the stop du jour – a place where Tokyo displays vast amounts of futuristic technology in multi-storied, window-less buildings. We watched 3D television, played with expensive cameras, and just generally ogled. This was quickly overwhelming and easily the most stimulation we’ve had in months, at least commercially speaking. And then… more baseball! Given my complete and utter lack of interest in this sport, there is certainly something to be said about the entertaining atmosphere. Among shouts of “Go, go Swallows!” and concessions folk in misshapen neon outfits, plenty of mayhem was to be had. We even had a ball land in netting close to us, which resulted in hundreds of people crowding in to take pictures and poke it with umbrellas.

In the next couple of days, we:

  1. Wandered the Royal Palace grounds, which are extensive but boring, especially considering you cannot approach the actual palace.
  2. Ventured to the top of the Bunkyo Center, as it encompasses a free observatory and an occasional Mt Fuji view to boot. Alas, conditions were a bit too smoggy for us to see it, but the thought was there. We did, however, experience a satisfying panorama of the city, though Tokyo is not nearly as vertical as I had imagined it to be.
  3. Explored the Asakusa area, which was a bit touristy, but still cute, even despite the main temple being covered up for construction. It was here that we noticed a little stand with a crazy line, and as any traveler knows, crazy food line = great food. So, we got fried mystery things (animal, vegetable, or mineral?) and eventually chocolate bananas. Basically a food bonanza set next to some kind of aged, but atmospheric, fairgrounds.
  4. Hunted down the flagship MUJI, a giant shopping paradise, something like a cross between Gap and IKEA. This was a surprisingly difficult undertaking, but one that resulted in shopping bags full of clothes and presents.
  5. Gawked at the famous Shibuya crossing, having nestled into the above Starbucks with a splendid view of the entire affair: thousands of pedestrians marching from every which direction, flooding the massive intersection with innumerable bodies. Considering the crowds, this was not as chaotic as one would expect; Japan is so ordered that even such potential disagreeable occurrences are tame.
  6. Went shopping. I really couldn’t bear to walk around in backpacking clothing when everything and everyone around me was so glamorous and fashion-forward. After arriving in Osaka, I immediately decided to buy some proper clothing and promptly lived in my new cardigans.

Things to note about Japan in general:

  1. It’s really, sometimes frighteningly, expensive.
  2. It is pedestrian paradise, by and large, especially compared to most everywhere else on this trip.
  3. Nobody stares at you. At all. Ever.
  4. Hilariously, the men are often spotted carrying women’s handbags, purse-style, everywhere, while the women walk beside, carrying nothing.
  5. Other than the occasional pagoda, Japan is so aesthetically Western that it’s a bit eerie.
  6. Backpackers don’t fit in. Buy some clothes.

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