Finding Tokyo THE DISCOVERY OF AI
The World’s Greatest Megalopolis I shared a dream with Kevin, my significant other and best friend: to see Tokyo, my own personal Mecca. Somehow, we made that dream a reality. I had faced the terrifying crowds of New York. I had pushed through the suffocating streets of London. I had wandered through Munich, Dublin, Vienna, Brussels. You see one big city, you’ve seen them all, right? This could not be farther from the truth. Before discovering Tokyo, my imagination conjured images of a surreal and alien realm where I would feel completely alone, lost in translation and disconnected from society. In reality, the surreality was what made me feel right at home. Tokyo has a long list of districts and neighborhoods - it may as well be its own country. Consequently, ten days was not nearly long enough to experience each of them, but we covered as many must-see areas as possible. We navigated the megalopolis through the use of two train systems: the Tokyo Metro and the JR (Japanese Railway). Thus, I thought it only fitting to illustrate each section in the style of a typical Tokyo train station, as each section focuses on a different aspect of our adventures in the Land of the Rising Sun. That is precisely what this book is about: the discovery of Tokyo, or the discovery of 愛... It represents the Japanese word “ai”, which means
Roppongi is famous as home to the rich Roppongi Hills area and an active nightclub scene. Many foreign embassies are located in Roppongi. It is in the southern portion of the circle described by the Yamanote Line, south of Akasaka and north of Azabu. The name “Roppongi” literally means “six trees”. Six very old and large zelkova trees used to mark the area; first three were cleared, and the last were destroyed during the Pacific War. Another legend has it that six daimyo lived nearby during the Edo period, each with the kanji character for “tree” or a kind of tree in their names. Roppongi was the first district of Tokyo that we visited, and we ended up going back one more time before the conclusion of our trip. We strolled the area and found ourselves transitioning from a busy city to a cozy rural area, complete with a spacious park, colorful trees and a beautiful lake. After bustling through shoulder-to-shoulder crowds, it was nice to relax and enjoy a moment of tranquility.
Harajuku is the common name for the area around Harajuku Station in the Shibuya ward of Tokyo. It is known for the patrons that visit the area every Sunday, when many young people dress in a variety of styles that include gothic lolita, visual kei, and cosplay. It is a well-respected fashion capital of the world; many prominent designers and fashion ideals have sprung from Harajuku. It is also a vast shopping district that includes luxury western designers like Louis Vuitton, Harajuku native designers, and affordable shops catered to youths.
My wallet suffered a great deal here. I felt like I had hit the jackpot in fashion, accessories, and overall adorable knickknacks that I didn’t need and yet couldn’t do without. It’s like the whole area is one big advertisement, and I was immediately drawn in. And apparently I wasn’t the only one – this was by far the most crowded placed in Tokyo we visited, and some stores were so packed there was literally no room for us to enter.
秋葉原 あきは ばら
Akihabara (“Field of Autumn Leaves”), also known as Akihabara Electric Town, is an area of Tokyo, Japan. Its name is frequently shortened to Akiba in Japan. Akihabara is a major shopping area for electronic, computer, anime, and otaku goods, including new and used items. Tourists tend to visit the big name shops like Laox or other specialty shops near the station, though there is more variety and lower prices at locales a little further away. Akihabara gained some fame through being home to one of the first stores devoted to personal robots and robotics. Being a huge fan of anime, video games, and electronics, this may very well have been my favorite part of Tokyo. Great shopping is not the only perk; this area offers endless entertainment. We must have spent hours in the numerous arcades of the district. Without a doubt, these arcades put America’s to shame – but at double the price.
渋谷 し ぶ や
The name “Shibuya” is used to refer to the central business district of Shibuya Ward, which surrounds Shibuya Station, one of Tokyo’s busiest railway stations. Shibuya is known as one of the fashion centers of Japan, particularly for young people, and as a major nightlife area. One of Shibuya’s most well known stories is that of Hachikō, a dog who waited on his late master at Shibuya Station every day from 1923 to 1935, eventually becoming a national celebrity for his loyalty. A statue of Hachikō was built adjacent to the station, and the surrounding Hachikō Square is now the most popular meeting point in the area.
I found that Shibuya is as large and vibrant a district as its reputation claims, with endless options in food, shopping, and general sightseeing. A place that particularly caught my interest here was Tokyu Hands – i.e. a seven-story building completely devoted to art supplies. The scenery alone, however, was enough to take my breath away.
The Edo-Tokyo Museum was founded on March 28,1993 as the place where visitors come to learn more about Tokyo’s history and culture. Special exhibitions and lectures are regularly held. The main permanent exhibitions are the life-size replica of the Nihonbashi, which was the bridge leading into Edo; the Nakamuraza theatre; scale models of town; and buildings from the Edo, Meiji and Shōwa periods. The distinctive elevated shape of the museum’s building is modeled after an old storehouse in the kurazukuri style. There is an Audio-Visual Hall, a library, and other facilities that allow visitors to learn while having fun at the same time. History has never been much of a friend to me, in all honesty – But this museum made me realize that, when I can absorb everything at my own pace and participate at my own free will, it’s so much better than a history lecture. I was especially fascinated when I saw the authentic Instrument of Surrender issued by Japan during World War II.
東京屋 ときょしかば ね
Tokyo Dome City
Tokyo Dome City is an entertainment complex in Bunkyo, Tokyo, Japan. It includes the world’s largest roofed baseball stadium known as Tokyo Dome (nicknamed “Big Egg”) and an amusement park known as Tokyo Dome City Attractions. In May 2003, a spa resort known as LaQua opened for business near the area. The Tokyo Dome Hotel also resides here, standing 43 stories and easily visible from the street.
This, to me, was one of the more magical areas of Tokyo. Interestingly enough, we had no idea where we were going when we stumbled upon it. We had been wondering aimlessly in the evening - half lost, half not wanting to go back to the hotel yet – when an enormous Ferris wheel caught our eye. We decided to explore further, and found ourselves in an area abundant with lights, music, and roller coasters almost close enough to touch. It was like a mini Disney Land. We were so fond of it we returned the following morning so we could see it in the daytime.
Nekobukuro, or “Cat’s House”, is part of the Ikebukuro Tokyu Hands store, located on the eighth floor. For the price of admission, customers can interact and play with the 20 or so cats running free around Nekobukuro at any given time. Nekobukuro is a play on the Japanese word for cat, “neko”, and the location Ikebukuro. Because many apartments will not allow pets, and some Tokyo residents feel their work schedule may not be compatible with the ownership of an animal, Nekobukuro is viewed as an alternative to pet ownership while still maintaining pet interaction. This place had my name written all over it. When we departed for Tokyo, we had not owned a cat for almost a year. For an avid feline lover, this became depressing very quickly. I felt somewhat childlike as I joyfully took this opportunity to reunite with my favorite animal, getting in as many cuddles as possible before it was time to leave. I was quickly wishing for a place like this near my hometown.
The Meiji Shrine, located in Shibuya, Tokyo, is the Shinto shrine that is dedicated to the deified spirits of Emperor Meiji and his wife, Empress Shōken. When Emperor Meiji died in 1912 and Empress Shōken in 1914, the Japanese people wished to pay their respects to the two influential Japanese figures. It was for this reason that the Meiji Shrine was constructed and their souls enshrined on November 1, 1920.
This shrine is epic in every form, combining nature’s beauty with traditional Japanese architecture. A mile-long walk is necessary to reach the shrine, but the tall walls of trees and endless rows of lanterns along the path made the walk quite enjoyable. When we reached the shrine area, we were overwhelmed with the elegant, clean structures of traditional Japan. The buildings seemed so precisely built, with small and ornate details sometimes difficult to notice – but, once they were, it was hard not to be mesmerized.
Shinjuku is a major commercial and administrative center, housing the busiest train station in the world. Surrounding Shinjuku Station are department stores, specialist electronic and camera shops, cinemas, restaurants and bars. Many international hotels are located here. We visited Shinjuku on the last day of our trip. Though we wanted to explore the area, our main reasoning for visiting Shinjuku was the see the Park Hyatt building, which was featured in “Lost in Translation”. We soon discovered this was a hotel strictly for the extremely wealthy, noting the lavish décor and outrageous room rates. Our intention was to have a few drinks at the bar on the top floor, where Bill Murray actually sat in the movie. We managed to reach the top floor (70-something stories; I was terrified), but unfortunately, the bar had a cover charge of twenty dollars a person. We should have guessed as much, but it was an interesting way to end the adventure.
A Taste of Tokyo Throughout this trip I made it a goal to try any and every kind of food I could. Inevitably, there were things I loved and things I could’ve done without. I did not expect, for example, that sushi choices would be much more limited in Japan. I am grateful for the opportunity to taste authentic sushi from the source, but I have to say I prefer America’s way. Ironically, American food in Japan is infinitely better than ours. We couldn’t help but try some “old faithfuls” (such as McDonald’s and TGI Fridays) and I was amazed at how much more I preferred eating at these places while in Tokyo. At home I’m the exact opposite; sushi is always my first choice here. Also, the only beverage offered by Japanese sushi restaurants is green tea, and I’m picky when it comes to drinks. Luckily I discovered Pocari Sweat, a mildly sweet (and highly addicting) soft drink. Japanese noodles put our instant ramen packs to shame and come in a wide variety of flavors and textures. My favorite dish was a type of Udon – thicker, doughy noodles – that was flavored and served with a piece of tofu. 21
For my Kevin, and our many more adventures to come.