Monday, October 27, 2008

Days 58-59: Tokyo, Japan

On my night bus to Tokyo I had realized that I had crossed the halfway point of my journey. I had seen Southeast and much of East Asia and would soon be venturing into Russia, Mongolia, and Europe. After reflecting on my favorite places, I realized that Kyoto, Busan, Hangzhou, and Halong Bay were my favorite places I had visited in the last 2 months.

Upon arriving in Tokyo and visiting the places I had not visited last year, such as the infamous Yasukuni Shrine (notorious for commemorating 13 Japanese war criminals and being the lightning rod behind rising tensions between Japan and both Korea and China whenever a Japanese PM visits it), I had realized that I really, really like this city. And here is why.

First, Tokyo is not only super clean (like many Japanese cities), but for a city of this magnitude --the biggest in the world, with some 26 million people in greater Tokyo-- it works. People, like most Japanese, are ultra kind and polite. There is always something going on, so it's never boring. There is always somewhere to go, and the prices are not as high as many think. A decent lunch can be had for $5 (500 yen).

I experienced the typical Tokyo experience by first visiting the famous Shibuya crosswalk. Shibuya is famous for the world's biggest diagonal crosswalk, and it's hard to explain the energy that one feels when walking through there; it surely feels like one of those once-in-a-lifetime adrenaline rushes. The district of Tokyo is known for its 25-and-younger fashionistas, shopping for hip clothes and other accessories. It's the younger crowd that usually hangs around here, and Tokyo's infamous Love Hotel Hill is located here also. (For information on what a love hotel is, which is another quintessentially Japanese experience, click here: I also visited Ginza, which is infamous for being Tokyo's answer to New York's Fifth Avenue: a conglomeration of expensive and trendy stores, selling anything from mainly clothes to cars and exorbitantly priced food, albeit a few cheap eateries. At night I visited Roppongi, which is Tokyo's gaijin (foreigner) haven, frequented by gaijin in search of clubs and bars where to hang out. Shinjuku was also a terrific experience: the typical stereotype of Tokyo, with hundreds of neon lights, cafes, people of all ages and Shinjuku Station, one of the busiest in the world, with about 3 million people passing through it daily. And then Akihabara, Tokyo's eletronic haven, was one of my final stops: here there are about 500 stores selling discount electronics of all types, with the culmination being Yodobashi Camera, a nine-story $1 billion electronic hypermarket.

I love Tokyo. I don't know what there is about it, but this is a great city I would definitely consider returning to some time soon. Of all the cities I have visited on my trip so far, the only two I would definitely consider returning to some day are Busan and Tokyo. I don't know what it is about Tokyo that intriques me so much, but this hidden aura truly is mistifying.

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