Tokyo, on my arrival and first days, presented itself as a megalopolis from high up, that felt like a collection of villages on the ground.
Back again, with the Autumn Festival taking place in the Meiji Shrine park and with the hustle and bustle of Shinjuku and Shibuya, it was parkland – and Blade Runner.
Even the Ginza, visited only during my (rainy) first day in Tokyo, had felt less urban than many a Chinese city.
Some luxury stores there were bigger. The survival of a specialty paper and writing materials store on that kind of shopping road made it clear that this was a different kind of culture.
And yet, the Graben and Kärntner Strasse in the center of Vienna feel to me like they have almost as much luxury to offer, with more history on less ground.
Other places such as Nezu were even more like villages…
Tokyo, Not Like a Village Anymore
On my return to Tokyo, after my pilgrimage on the Kumano Kodo, side trip to Osaka and discoveries in Kyoto, however, I stayed and spent the most time on something of the other side of town, in and around Shinjuku and Shibuya.
Shinjuku & Shibuya
This is more of the (other) Japan in general, and Tokyo in particular, of our pop-cultural imagination.
Here, one finds the Tokyo of high-rises, a sensory overload, and masses of people almost everywhere and always.
The days are a rush.
The nights are even more of an onrush on one’s senses.
Shopping, screens, and neon signs, this is the Tokyo that makes one think of Blade Runner…
… or perhaps, with the famous Shibuya crossing, of Tokyo Drift (the third(?) installment of Fast & Furious).
Meiji Jingu Shrine
At the same time, not least with the Meiji Jingu Shrine in the middle of Shibuya, this is also parkland.
And as it happened, I went and visited there on the day of the Autumn Grand Festival / Culture Day.
On that day, lots of things are happening.
An envoy from the Imperial household visits the shrine.
Traditional (martial) arts are being performed, not least a yabusame display of horseback archery.
Lots of people simply are around, enjoying the sun, taking in the sights.
Drifting through Tokyo, the Vlog
Rainbow Bridge, Odaiba
The contrasts of Tokyo came to a head a bit farther outside yet, going to Odaiba for a view of the “Rainbow Bridge.”
Going there late(r) at night means that the walkway under the bridge is closed, so it is better to take the subway(s) to Tokyo Teleport, Odaiba, and go out to the beach from there.
Yes, there is a bit of a beach there. A raised boardwalk leads along the northern shore (Odaiba Seaside Park), where Tokyo’s Statue of Liberty stands, with a view to the Rainbow Bridge.
The views are nice, indeed – but notice the warning/help signs telling you how far up you are, in case of a tsunami warning.
Think of how this is all land that was “reclaimed” – what a strange word that really is – from the Tokyo Bay itself.
And on the way there, you can already notice the strange organization that some of Japan has, as you need to change from the “normal” JR subway lines (which you can use with a JR Rail Pass) to a private subway line that requires separate payment.
It’s all just small details, nothing that would ever be shared for an Instagram “Look how pretty it is where I am!”-post. But it is telling, once you start considering the contrasts.
It also started raining a bit as I walked around there; it was relatively hard to find the right way out the subway station, some other visitors were running around in Super Mario-ish costumes, some places – there are quite a few shopping malls there – looked quite busy but the seaside park was, for the most part, dark and empty.
Then again, that’s what a foreign country full of strangers – and you, the perfect stranger among them, on your short visit – should be like…
And, that wrapped up my journey through Japan.
Just one pointer: If you are interested in the food aspect of it, more on that is over at ChiliCult