Stepping from the sterility of a foreign airport into the embrace of a strange new country, I’m always keen to note what first strikes a chord with me. In Tokyo’s case it was literal chords that sparked my attention, with everything from robots to subways charming me with delightfully mad musical jingles. Even the greetings proffered by the chirpy shop assistants were delivered in sing-song vocals of ‘Hajimemashite!’ and ‘Arigato gozaimasu!’
It’s these eclectic kinks that elicit the ‘like another planet!’ label Tokyo is attributed by its western visitors which, while somewhat old-hat as far as appraisals go, still whistles an extremely accurate tune. In truth what enthralled me about the singing and the kitsch, the towering mecha-statues and glowing shrines to technology that comprise the cities’ quirkiness, was that they all represented an authentic slice of daily life.
Whereas many countries bend over backwards to accommodate foreigners; English signs, English guides and even English dishes to go with the slew of tourist snares, Tokyo demonstrates no such pandering. I walked through wide streets hypnotised by halogen highways and bizarre, anime-laden towers. As someone more akin to the sombre cities of home, I found Tokyo so outlandish precisely because this was the status quo and not just a lure for the expectant traveller.
Nowhere exemplified this greater than my first stop – Akihabara. Shuffling off the subway I was met with a chirpy jingle and a host of confusing signs directing passengers toward the renowned electric city. Districts like this are a scramble but the people remain unceasingly friendly and Akihabara itself is no exception. It plays host to welcoming stores and courteous venders, stuffed with every conceivable gadgetry temptation. En-route arcades strobe and sing for your attention while bright vending machines tempt you with all sorts of mesmerising sundry.
The technologically dominant side of life here was truly put into perspective by my first toilet experience. Usually a mundane affair, a trip to the loo in Tokyo is like something straight out of sci-fi. As I approached the toilet the seat lifted itself automatically, with a hiss, and I half expected a thick waft of smoke and the flickering lights of a computer to emanate within. When you’re facing a robot loo with more controls than the Starship Enterprise, the awesome scope of Japan’s respect and mastery of technology becomes very apparent.
Yet despite the pervasiveness of the urban circuit board, I still visited many areas of outstanding natural beauty. I wandered through impressive parks like Koishikawa Botanical Gardens which ensconced me completely in colourful flora and fauna, remaining tranquil and somewhat isolated despite the proximity of the high rises.
A short subway ride north was the Sunshine 60 tower. With a view sixty floors up I was again in awe at Tokyo’s size as monumental districts stretched relentlessly in every direction. This was still a horizon fringed with stunning natural scenery nonetheless and a superb spot to witness one of the most impressive sunsets I’d ever seen.
I shared my reverent silence with fellow travellers as the sun sank, ushering in the prismatic light show of Tokyo at night. Someone finally spoke and began pointing out the sights.
‘Amazing isn’t it? That distant silhouette is THE volcano, Mt. Fuji. I climbed it yesterday.’
My curiosity was piqued.
‘Worth the trek?’
He smiled toward the volcano’s silhouette without answering. In truth, with all I’d seen, I didn’t need him to.
A day later I was at the foot of the mighty Fuji. What shocked me more than anything was that it didn’t have its own jingle.
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Category: Guest Post