Let us travel forward in time, quite literally, to the Land of the Rising Sun. And by literally, I mean literally, not figuratively, since the word has been rabbit holed into believing it is what it isn’t, and what it isn’t, it shouldn’t be. You literally can, actually. Aversion to the 16-hour time change takes a day or two to fade, but waking up at 4:00 a.m. gives me time to think about all the things I have no interest in doing that self-proclaimed early morning people do (e.g., going to the gym, cooking breakfast, etc.)
Tsukiji: Home for Seven Days
Tsukiji looks as though it’s been through a rinse cycle at exsiccative temperatures: no gum turned tar to be scraped from the sidewalks, no litter, no graffiti. People dress impressively, regardless of day-of-the-week. Droves of men in business suits take to the streets in their daily commutes to and from work and all up in and around the myriad izakaya (drinking and snacking establishments). Women demonstrate nothing but class in nylons, tailored dresses, and cream colored raincoats, enduring lengthy city blocks in alpine heels without a hair out of place. Landscaped walkways and parks with very intentionally positioned plant life are positioned betwixt financial buildings, business campuses, Family Marts and noodle shops. There is an honest sense of pride in the aesthetics of Tokyo’s culture, a refreshing and humbling scene of which to bear witness.
The Palatable Heaven that is Food in Chuo
Do you like sushi? The Tsukiji Fish Market, largest wholesale fish and seafood market in the world, will have you voraciously inhaling ocean life, challenging your susceptibility to mercury poisoning on a mythical scale.The Sushi Zanmai in the outer region of the market is a conveyor belt style restaurant, conveying a remarkably high volume of fish to your face in very little time. The ratio is unsettling. Gimme.
I’m not particularly fond of udon or soba, but having been a college student, I’m quite familiar with ramen. There is a ramen restaurant in Ginza called Ippudo, one block over and up from Kabuki-za Theater, that has forever changed my perception of, and set the bar for, noodle soup- even more so than pho, which I also really enjoy. I had been suffering from a cold for a few days, and I 100% credit this ramen (topped with chili sauce, sliced pork, minced scallions and mushrooms) with the salvation of my sinuses. I can never eat Top Ramen again.
Taito district, situated in the northeastern region of the metropolis that is Tokyo, is home to Tokyo’s first public park. Though I arrived a little late in spring to see the sakura at their fullest, already bloomed cherry blossoms were still visible throughout the park, particularly around the edge of its Shinobazu Pond.
Asakusa’s Temple Senso-ji, Tokyo’s oldest temple, was originally built in 645, although it’s been destroyed and reconstructed several times over. And, pictures do its Main Hall no justice: it’s quite large.
If the lights go out on the Seibu Lions as Kazuhisa Makita throws his last pitch to carry a no-hitter out of the ninth, it’s most likely because a fire was sparked from a circuit breaker overheating in a transformer substation below Taito HEY! in Akihabara. It’s nicknamed ‘Electric City,’ and deservedly so. Multiple floors in numerous buildings are occupied by arcade cabinets; pachinko, slot and UFO claw machines; the insanity that is four-person (or two-person duel-wielding) air hockey; purikura booths; automated dart boards; Lord of Vermilion interactive trading card terminals; and the LAN paradise of WCCF. Add to that the fact that smoking in the arcades is widely accepted, and it begins to feel a bit like Vegas. Electronic megastores like Yodobashi Akiba make Best Buy look like the battery aisle at Vons. Game stores like Super Potato would make Game Stop’s sales of games stop.
And, don’t even get me started on the beacon of intrigue that is the AKB48 Cafe… Okay, get me started.
AKB48 is the all-Japanese 14-year old version of Spice Girls, but with 48+ members performing in groups of 16+ at any one time. My observation of the group’s cafe, devoid of judgment, suggested it to be a place for men of all ages to pull up a chair and placate their fascination with the young girls, slack-jawed over their ¥500 tiramisu, by making requests from an index of hit music videos, ogling the teen idols as their image is projected onto a sizeable screen. Again, no judgment. We have Disney kids in the US doing pretty much the same thing. It’s just that there is this overt “sexy baby” look that seems to be prominent in portions of the culture to which I’m really not accustomed, and seeing a brick and mortar building dedicated to the group’s fandom raises my eyebrows a little, particularly as it was packed with guys well over 40 when I visited.
But, sex seems to be far less taboo in Japan, which is an ideal I support, as it diminishes the obsessive nature that culminates as a result of suppressing conversation… and, then there’s Pop Life M. Pop Life M is an adult store. Never before had I been in an adult store, but it had been rumored that this store will shock and amaze. So, I had to see for myself. Its six floors of shopping did not disappoint. I could not stop laughing as I climbed higher and higher, partly because I’m immature, but primarily because, although I’m desensitized to many a thing, there’s something jolting about seeing a life-sized rubber arm, knowing it’s probably not used for reaching the highest shelf in your kitchen cabinet. Taped to the walls circling the staircase are the polaroid pictures of innumerable women “trying on” their purchases, the surrender of which grants a 30% discount. A very youthful real doll hangs centrally in the walkway, and floral ruffled school girl panties are boxed for sale. That doesn’t nearly sum up the vast array of merchandise, but you get the idea.
Benedict Arnold’s trust in John Andre to deliver his message of surrender to the British; the inability of Napoleon’s Grande Armee to combat scorched earth tactics while invading Russia in the winter; an elderly parishioner’s failed restoration of the Jesus Christ fresco, Ecce Homo; the construction of the Tower of Pisa atop unstable soil: all famed regrets incomparable to my deepest, most inconsolable regret, the torment of my entire being, which exists in the insufficience of foresight with which I was intrinsically gifted, preventing me from scheduling my flight home to occur only four days later, thus granting me the opportunity to witness the most spectacular contest of strength and stamina known the world ’round- the culmination of a thousand year battle between the eternal and the ethnological. I imagine that in Shangri-la the clouds part and the planets align to form a ladder destined for the May sumo tournament bi-week at the Ryogoku Kokugikan. Veritably so, the prescience to plan for this momentous clash of colossi had escaped me. How could I have been so blind? I whole-heartedly embrace the physiological modality of sumo wrestling, myself sharing in several of the physique enhancing practices of rigor commonplace amongst its sportsmen of a nation. These include, but are not limited to, skipping breakfast, drinking beer with meals, napping after lunch, and eating the largest meal of the day before sleeping. The athletes are the very model of self-discipline, competitors worth imitating. But, I digress. I hope to return to the Kokugikan one day, but for now the memory of walking past its halls will have to suffice.
…Onto something I actually did in Sumida: I took a night cruise on the Mizube Cruise Line to Rainbow Bridge and back. It was only ¥1650 per person for a 90 minute excursion, and I absolutely loved it. If you arrive early enough, you can claim a number that will situate you toward the front of the line, enabling you to snag a booth on the boat’s lower deck, but the open view on its upper deck is far more preferable to the lower deck viewshed as you travel down the Sumida River. Just remember to bring a jacket: the wind makes it a bit nippy. Quite a few of Tokyo’s landmarks are visible on the cruise: Skytree, Tokyo Tower, Daikanrasha (the Palette Town ferris wheel in Odaiba), numerous bridges, and more. If you enjoy nighttime views of a cityscape, there is no better way to see Tokyo from ground level.
Now, if you want the best view of Tokyo from above, high tail it over to, what is at this time, the tallest standing tower in the world, Tokyo Skytree. Last I checked, people in Japan still speak Japanese, meaning Nebakanezer probably had it beat at one point, that is, if you’re going by religious canon. Still, at 634 meters (2,080 feet), with observation decks at 350 meters and 450 meters, you’re able to get a hell of a lot higher than Doug Benson has ever been, and that’s saying a lot.
The second tallest structure in Tokyo stands at 333 meters, only half the height of Skytree. Tokyo Tower is located in Minato, and though it may have short man syndrome when compared to its neighboring tower, it’s still pretty dang tall. In my opinion, one view is not better than the other. It’s more of a bird’s eye from the sky versus bird’s eye from its pretty highly situated nest sort of difference in viewsheds. I like both.
If you’ve ever been to the Blue Bayou, this is similar sans the boat observation and alligators. Though kitschy, it makes for a fun night out. Upon entry, you’re granted your own ninja warrior, who guides you up ancient stone steps, over a collapsed bridge, under lowered soffits on which, despite being warned, you will most certainly hit your head, and through secret passageways until you reach a secret ninja village under an eternal night sky, or at least in a windowless mall space modeled as such, set in Feudal Japan. It’s like a scene out of TMNT III from ’93. Crickets chirp and frogs croak as a fog bank rolls over your path. You are guided into your own private dining quarters, seated at a low zataku table and shielded by sliding shoji screens. Your ninja returns from time to time, performing magic tricks and reading menu options from scrolls, as I imagine real ninjas did in ancient times. Ninja Akasaka is highly recommended if you’re willing to bankroll a ¥10000 meal; it would be seemingly difficult for two people to get out for much less.
Gyoen National Garden
I believe that if plants had sentience, they would fear me as a harbinger of death, robed in their friends’ lifeless tendrils, themselves wilting and decaying as I saunter past. Offering hydration with the frequency of El Niño and providing nurture with a thumb of lead, I couldn’t blame the various flora and fauna for withdrawing in fear. Still, I love nature and being engrossed in its beauty, which is why my responsibilities in this world lie elsewhere, leaving culpable practitioners to care for said kingdom Plantae.
Alice’s Fantasy Restaurant
As a proponent of all things ‘Alice’ themed, primarily the 1951 Disney cartoon, and absolutely not the live action Tim Burton ode to himself, I found myself pulled toward Alice’s Fantasy Restaurant in Shinjuku as though I was orbiting a neutron star. Upon entering, I got really excited because, for those of you who know me well, I am absolutely fanatical about Disneyland, and, from the outside, the restaurant seemed to be themed to some extent like the ‘Alice’ section of Fantasyland. A giant sliding row of books disguises the entry, and at a kiosk within is your host, dressed as a sexy Mad Hatter. She escorts you through a corridor, lined with faux hedges on one side and oddly shaped doors of various sizes on the other. I was seated in the restaurant’s main dining room, a medley of various scenes from the story. A large heart-shaped table is situated central to the room, with heart-shaped beads hanging from a chandelier overhead. Mismatched chairs and pillows are scattered throughout the room, and murals of several characters are painted on the walls. Your menu is a large storybook with themed dishes and drinks within. The restaurant is very cutesy and, in my opinion, worth going to for its novelty. However, I would add that it doesn’t quite live up to the immersive experience I had imagined it would be. Rather than A Very Merry Unbirthday, The Walrus and the Carpenter, or Golden Afternoon, you’ll hear Disney Channel’s Top 50 (I made that up- that’s probably not a thing). I still feel like I’m in a basement level restaurant with low ceilings and windows out into a mall, not in Wonderland. And, I couldn’t expect anything more, but I so badly wanted to be surrounded by giant mushrooms, talking flowers, sleepy door mice, condescending caterpillars and smart ass rabbits. Still, the restaurant is pretty awesome.
Kabukicho: Robot Restaurant
Kabukicho is Shinjuku’s red light district- ’nuff said. If you can find your way past the labyrinth of debauchery, or at least not linger in any of its convolutions for too long, you will happen upon an alley aglow with glimmering light. A gatekeeper will ask for your reservation, and you will respond, “Through dangers untold and hardships unnumbered, I have fought my way here past the seedy bars and the touts of abounding nations, relentlessly stalked by creatures of the night, for my will is as strong as yours, and my Visa is as great.” And, then you will be allowed to pass, and your heart will swell with glee because everything you’ve ever wished for is here at the Robot Restaurant (note: it’s really not so much of a restaurant as it is a pageant of cute girls dancing atop electronic floats as metal men fight each other for your merriment). It’s the most entertained I’ve ever been. I think if Barnum & Bailey saw it they might shoot a tiger just to make a bigger spectacle out of their show.
There’s definitely more, but the divulgence of further details is far too specious, as it would preclude the mystery and the magic, leaving you bereft of much joy. I’ve already said too much.
Let us perform analysis on Shibuya utilizing the Kipling Method. Here we go: How? …Pride and technological superiority. Who? …People my age I’d actually like to be around. What? …Everything for which you could ever wish. Where? …Check a subway map; they’re everywhere. When? …24/7. Why? …Okay, so here’s the thing. In Shibuya, you don’t ask why. Why? Because there is no reason. It just is. And, it’s awesome. Shibuya has the social atmosphere of Echo Park, the high end shopping of Fifth Avenue in NYC, and the population density of Boston, with really nice buildings and parks. There are at least seven universities in Shibuya, which is probably why it’s packed with a more youthful population. This seems to lend to more fun things to do for people in their 20s, or people who are young at heart. The iconic 109 Building is at the famed multi-point intersection, known as the scramble crossing, across from Shibuya Station, and everything branches out from there: restaurants, shopping, mega-arcades, live music venues, etc.
I propose a treasure hunt if you’re ever wandering the streets of Shibuya. The items are as follows:
There are, to my knowledge, two restaurants in Shibuya employing the horror genre of dining motifs, neither of which will likely be praised with culinary accolades in the near future. But, that’s not why we go to these things: we go to be entertained. They’re both fairly similar to one another. Each charges ¥500 a head (per person, that is), but with the consideration that paying gratuity is not customary in Japan and is often considered rude, the cover charge is paltry when compared to what you’d be paying in the States as a percentage in tips for all the campy drink orders you’re about to place. As you enter both restaurants, there is one stipulation to which you must abide, and that is to surrender to your hostess, dressed as a cop of copulation, who will slap you in irons and lead you to your dungeon.
However, there are differences between the restaurants as well…
The Lock Up, Shibuya
Alcatraz Medical Prison, Shibuya
So, that’s Tokyo in a nutshell. I was only there for two weeks, and even though I was fortunate enough to experience a lot within that time, I can’t wait to return and see what other amazing places there are to discover.
What’s your favorite metropolis and why? Let me know about it in the comments!by