Sorry for the short break from posting, I was adjusting to the organized chaos that is Tokyo for the past couple days.
I’m now in the final leg of my trip, and where else to end my journey but in the heart of Japan. It’s a bit of a cliché, but Tokyo really stands in a world of its own with regards to size. Not area, mind you, (Tokyo actually occupies a relatively small portion of land) but in numbers. Number of people, number of restaurants (my guidebook notes there are 21,000 ramen eateries alone in Tokyo), number of skyscrapers, apartment buildings, mini-cities (literally), shopping malls, parks, museums, shrines, well, you get it.
Tokyo is a monster, to put it simply. To me, it has both a charm and certain disadvantages. For the former, no one can argue Tokyo is the center of Japan, showcasing the hypermodernity and efficiency of the Japanese people. At the same time, the insanely high population density and constantly crowded districts can be a damper. You can only fight your way (literally) through thousands of people at a crosswalk or stand for 30 minutes packed like sardines in a train for so many times before the novelty begins to wear off.
During my first week in Japan when I started off in Tokyo, I hit the big-name spots to get a general feel for the city. Shibuya, Harajuku, Shinjuku, Ikebukuro, Akihabara, Central Tokyo, Ueno, etc. These are all of course cities in their own right (Shinjuku Station is used by 3.6 million people every day), so there is a lot still left to see in those areas. So, I headed to the west side of the city today, hitting Ebisu, Shibuya and Shinjuku (barely).
Ebisu, one stop west of Shibuya, houses the Ebisu Garden Place, sponsored by the beer brewery, Yebisu (there is no ‘ye’ in Japanese, but old English romanizations often turned the Japanese ‘e’ to ‘ye’. So, it’s not actually ‘yen’, but ‘en’). This mini-city, containing a shopping mall, office complexes, dozens of restaurants, a couple museums, and a Westin hotel, is largely visited by what I reckon as more upper-class Tokyo citizens. The Japanese would call it oshare (oh-shah-ray), or stylish/classy. It was a nice little area to walk through, and I also checked out the Tokyo Metropolitan Photography Museum, which had a great exhibit about the traditional elements on display.
I then tracked back on the subway to Shibuya, the youth center of Tokyo (and Japan, probably).
Exiting the train station itself is an adventure, and I’ve already talked about the hundreds-to-thousands of people crossing the street outside in one of my earlier posts. You honestly have to experience the street view in Shibuya firsthand to comprehend how extravagant (and somewhat garrish) it all is.
I think Shibuya is worth a visit to witness the surreal character of its streets and the people who occupy them, but I wouldn’t overdo it. Even by Japanese standards, it’s extremely crowded and overrun with teenage girl wearing 5-inch heels as well as seedy solicitors handing out pamphlets on the street.
Afterwards, I hopped on the above-ground Yamanote Line to Shinjuku, the business heart of Tokyo. It was already approaching sunset (which is now as early as 4:30 pm), so I quickly went up the Tokyo Metropolitan Government, a complex of twin skyscrapers that has a free observatory on the 45th floor.
I don’t think the views were as good as those I saw at the top of the Park Hyatt back in September (ironically, the Park Tower is right next to the twin buildings), but looking out over the seemingly endless ocean of Tokyo never gets old. I still have to go up Tokyo Skytree, which I can only imagine offers totally different views at such higher heights.
I’m trying to divide Tokyo up and visit not only the sightseeing spots, but also just random districts that are less advertised and thus less crowded. If you think about it, even walking around a random part of a foreign city is sightseeing in itself, and sometimes you come across things a guidebook can’t tell you.
I still have quite a bit of time in Tokyo, which I think is perfect because there is an endless number of things to do here.
A few extra pics: