After bidding a farewell to the nation I have called home for over 2 years, it was time to begin my adventure with a fresh new country; Japan. A country I’ve been dreaming of visiting ever since I was a teenager, another world of spirituality, utter chaos and beautiful harmony. Where better to start my adventure than the biggest and arguably the greatest city of them all, the centre of culture, fashion and the alternative in this region of the world; Tokyo.
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On such an enormous journey its important to start on the right foot, where as I decided to stumble into my new adventure face first. From heading to the wrong airport, wrong terminal AND having the zippo lighter I’ve owned for 6 years taken off me by airport security, things didn’t start off too well.
Neither did my arrival in Tokyo. Being the nature of airports, I anticipated it to be outside the city limits, I just didn’t anticipate how much. The reaches of Tokyo are fucking enormous, with multiple airports that stretch far outside. Narita airport was actually in a region known as Chiba, about 2 hours outside of the city itself. The ever so helpful man at the airport desk helped me find my way to my hostel.
“You have several options to get to your hostel, which would you like?” Being the traveller I am…
“The cheapest” which could also have been labelled the longest.
Two hours and 3 trains later, I arrived at the hostel. In an attempt to save money in the ridiculously expensive Tokyo, I found the cheapest place I could. Only problem was that it was about an hour away from central Tokyo. Regardless I couldn’t wait to check-in and crash for a couple of hours for some well needed recovery.
Too bad I forgot about the dreaded check-in time. That’s the one benefit I’ll give hotels, not having the agony of waiting for a bed when you’re fucking exhausted. I already waited 2 hours for the guy in charge to wake-up, only for him to tell me I needed to wait another 3 before I could check-in.
Welcome to Tokyo
No point sitting around wasting valuable time. Though I didn’t have the energy for site-seeing, I thought it was worth heading to a busy area just to have my first real exposure to the city. First I headed to the outskirts of Senso-ji Temple and walked along the vast line of market stalls.
I also took the opportunity to tick off an important addition to the bucket list; eating authentic sushi in Tokyo. Sitting with the miniature plates orbiting the chefs before me, the dramas of the last 24 hours vanished into nothing.
The Alternative Tokyo
Fully rested and with my head finally back in the game, it was time to properly explore the city. My first site of the day was decided by the day of the week. It was Sunday, an significant day when it comes to Tokyo’s alternative scene. This was the one time of the week to see an extraordinary spectacle, a regular crowd gatherer in Tokyo.
Every Sunday afternoon in the Harajuku area, the alternative crowd of Tokyo gathers. Groups of fanatically gothic teens, fans of cosplay, activists and the like gather around Jingu Bridge and the surrounding Yoyogi park. Might be down to the time of year being colder, however in recent years the numbers of those who gather in the area has dropped compared to the number I used to see on documentaries. A real shame.
However, there was one crowd that still stood strong, providing a wonderful spectacle as much as they ever have. These were the rocker-billies that gathered in Yoyogi park decked out in their finest leather gear and beehive haircuts to dance to the beat of 50’s rock in the middle of the circle of spectators. Every Elvis and Billy Joel wanna-be took to their make-shift dance floor and danced to their heart’s content.
It really is wonderfully bizarre. Its not as if they were aiming to be a tourist attraction, rather it seems they couldn’t care less that anyone was there. They simply gather in their own cliques (personalised jackets and all) and rocked their finest moves of air-guitar and jumping splits. Particularly impressive when considering a great proportion of these rockers must have been over 50.
Next was another chance to absorb the chaos of the city by walking down Takeshita-dori Street. A narrow street of stores and food vendors stacked beside and above each other selling anything and everything you could imagine. Some coming with their own advertising person using signs and screams to attract customers and stand-out from the congestion of competition. I felt that I had to indulge myself at least once.
My choice was something that I hoped to do all along; visit an animal café. Quite a popular site in big cities these days, but Tokyo is really where it all started. The question was, which kind of animals did I want to have a drink with? There were plenty of options. Cats and dogs seemed a little too ordinary. Micro pigs were very tempting. However I opted for owls, because when’s the last time you saw an owl? Let alone spent time with one.
The Real Tokyo
Naturally while travelling any decent city, time has to be dedicated to find the perfect view. No other city deserves it more than Tokyo. There were many options available, however the price was my main concern. Of course I wanted a decent view, but I wasn’t willing to (and rarely am) pay a ridiculous amount to be at the top of a building. A bit of research later and I found the perfect place. The Tokyo Metropolitan Government Office had a purpose built deck which gave a 360 panoramic view of the city just as I desired, for absolutely free.
Obviously everyone had the same idea with the queue being an hour long, but no matter. The time they were burning was bringing me closer to sunset which gave me the best of both worlds. I was able to absorb the sheer enormousness of the city in the daylight, even able to see the shadows of Mount Fuji in the distance. A few minutes later and the city was plunged into darkness and the lights were lit. I will forever believe that Tokyo is a city which belongs in the darkness, when it’s lights can truly shine and become the Tokyo which everybody knows.
The lights were on, and there was only one place I could possibly go to enjoy such a spectacle, Shibuya. The name might not be familiar but the images truly are. For any decent footage of Tokyo must always include one specific clip, one image which defines Tokyo and represents the city’s beautiful harmony of organisation and chaos. This is of course the Shibuya Crossing; the intersection at which all the lights turn green in sync and the swarm of bodies from all sides flood the streets.
Watching it from street level and even being part of the swarm itself was indeed fascinating, but I could do better. The question yet again was, where to go? Being in the middle of high-rise buildings it shouldn’t be too hard to find one.
A quick pass by the nearby Hachiko Statue and the herd of Instagram-loving cattle, I found myself a mall that obviously knew the demand that myself and others had. There was a purpose built deck overlooking the crossing, giving a perfect bird’s-eye view of the lunacy. Though I had to pay for that privilege, none too better view could be found, and stayed an extended amount of time marvelling at the utter chaos.