Back from Japan, in this article I will talk about my very first experience in Tokyo, and in particular, of what I appreciated more and less of this vibrant city the first night i walked along its streets.
Tokyo in my opinion, is certainly one of those cities that made us always dream for years, especially if, as happened to me, one was an enthusiast of comics and cartoons of the 80s period. Who doesn’t remember the various Mazinga, Ranma, Doraemon, Gundam, Saint Seiya and those other hundreds of cartoons who entertained us for so long when we were just kids?
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During my experience in Tokyo, I visited many places and I had the opportunity to stroll in the evening to enjoy the atmosphere created by the neon lights that adorn all the various buildings and skyscrapers of the downtown.
I still remember when I arrived here for the first time, it was still afternoon. I came to the Shibuya station from the airport, and went to the hotel to drop my luggage, have a short rest, and get ready to go out at night. I was at the hotel Fukudaya, just near Shibuya itself, located in an excellent starting point from which it is possible to move comfortably to visit all the various areas of Tokyo.
I have choosen this hotel not only for its comfortable position, but also because Fukudaya offers traditional japanese rooms, realized with the popular tatami floor, the futon bed, and the paper windows that make you immerse immediately in the Japanese life.
Another advantage of this hotel was to be quite close to a konbini, a word used to indicate small supermarkets, usually managed by 2 main brands called 7Eleven and Family Mart, where I was able to either buy good food to take away, as well as get some cash in yen, since inside it, it was present an ATM machine accepting my european bank cards.
I still remember with pleasure the act of walking barefoot on the tatami. Once arrived, in the room there was a pleasant silence, partially broken by the distant buzz of the cars running back and forth along the near streets, which, although being many, produced a steady, calm, and almost relaxing sound, quite different from that of many other cities, where it’s easier to feel the loud engines rumble and the horns. In fact, one of the characteristics of Tokyo, is that despite the overcrowding, the cars are very quiet, because drivers tend to just use the horn as less as possible to maintain the quiet at an acceptable level.
And now, after the short rest, it was time to go out. The sun was down, and the nightfall arrived. Finally after all this time I was ready to visit Tokyo and to enjoy for the first time in my life the fantastic atmosphere for which is known, and that fascinated me for so long since I was only a child.
THE FIRST IMPACT WITH TOKYO
After getting out of the hotel, i immediately spotted along the desert street, bright like a ray of light breaking through a cloudy sky, a typical drink vending machine, a popular icon of the streets of Japan. This scene alone was already enough for me to immerse myself into the situation.
And then I began to walk along the main boulevard leading from the Hotel Fukudaya to the Shibuya station, and while doing so, I was flanked by the popular elevated highway of Tokyo, another great icon of this city, which I had often seen in the past in films or in some videogames set in Tokyo, and even in the city of Rome, where there was a very similar version of it, not surprisingly, still built by a Japanese architect, the famous Kenzo Tange.
While strolling, i began to see some local restaurants, one of which immediately caught my attention, as it was a typical ramen restaurant where you could sit along a unique table directly facing the chef who was preparing the various dishes. For those not familiar with the Japanese language, the ramen is none other than the typical cup of spaghetti hot soup usually eaten with the wood chopsticks, another well-known Japanese cliché often seen on TV. I was tempted to go in, but I was immediately put off by the Japanese written menu, and for a moment, frightened and not yet completely accustomed to the place, I went straight. Big mistake, because after all, I believe that in our life we should always try new experiences and take some risks without being afraid. After all such opportunities like a trip in Japan don’t come every day, and trying the local dishes of a place during a journey is something that should be made, even at the cost of not understanding what is written on the menu. Learned the lessons, the days after i have been able to try some special dishes by trying some local restaurants.
After a while, I then arrived at a junction that connected me to a main road leading to Shibuya, and the impact was immediately strong. An incredible number of neon lights, incomprehensible due to the Japanese characters but yet so fascinating, was filling the emptiness of the dark sky, in an endless line that seemed almost like a tunnel, with so many people on the street walking back and forth in a neat and calm way second to none, something for which, japanese citizens are very popular throughout the world.
In the end, I spent the entire evening walking around Shibuya, along with the areas of Shinjuku and Roppongi. I tried to capture the atmosphere in the best way I could, by catching some good scenes as well as some interesting gazes of people tirelessly waiting for the next traffic light to be green.
Once back in the hotel, I was pleased of the experience, because after all these years, I was finally able to realize the dream of enjoy for one night the vibrant and futuristic atmosphere of Tokyo. And while closing my eyes, I then made the point, and though about what I loved and hated of this strange and exciting evening.
THE GOOD AND DARK SIDES OF TOKYO
THE NEON LIGHTS
Needless to say, they are fantastic. I cannot still explain why this crazy “habit” broke out so much in Japan. A quite rare phenomenon, at least for now, although I must say that in recent years in the far East, i found many cities that have begun to do the same, while here in Europe, apart from Trafalgar Square in London, i don’t remember anything like this. The only other exception, i think is represented by Time Square in New York.
Historically speaking, however, the city that I remember the most in terms of neon lights, is definitely Tokyo. Shibuya station in this sense, is the heart of this atmosphere because each skyscraper is covered by giant neon lights and advertising screens like no other place (Shinjuku is eventually another one similar to it).
TIPS: if you want to enjoy the place from a top view, it is possible to climb to the upper floors of the Shibuya underground station, where through the windows, you can admire the atmosphere from above. The same is true if you visit the Starbucks of Shibuya, located just opposite to the station.
THE GREAT SHIBUYA CROSSING
Another way to enjoy the atmosphere and the lights of Tokyo, is certainly to cross once in life the famous Shibuya crossing. It is a particular road junction became popular because, instead of presenting the usual four crosswalks, it has been realized with 6 of them, i.e. four arranged in a square, and two forming a cross, and each time the traffic light gets green, a river of people start to fill the emptiness of the streets. However, I invite anyone to do this experiment, stop in the middle of the road while others people continue to pass through. It ‘amazing how no pedestrian will attempt to touch you even in the slightest way. It seems like everyone is very careful not to touch you to make sure that there is the utmost respect, something for which of course, Japan is very popular.
THE NICE SMELLS OF TOKYO
Another thing that has certainly fascinated me is the amount of smells coming out from the kitchens of the various restaurants located around the central area. Smell of smoked fish, hot ramen soups, burgers, fried food, and ethnic food of any kind. Surely, Tokyo from the culinary point of view has a lot to offer. For those who want to make a quick meal, it is also possible for just few yen, to visit the so-called Konbini (usually called Family Mart or 7Eleven), namely those small but still well-stocked supermarkets, where you can also withdraw money, as well as buy a whole range of tasty and ready-made foods, as well as many types of chips, strange drinks never tasted before, sweets of all kinds, and so on and so forth.
THE PANORAMIC VIEWS OF TOKYO
Tokyo with its neon lights is great to be enjoyed along the streets. However, it also has to offer some unforgettable panoramic views from many different points, such as the the view from the Tokyo Tower, or from the Roppongi Tower, or even from the Odaiba promenade, where a small reproduction of the Statue of Liberty is present in front of the popular rainbow bridge with the Tokyo skyline behind. Of the many scenic views that you can enjoy, what I liked most was the one from Roppongi Tower, because i was able to get a complete overview of the entire city from a truly exaggerated height, besides being able to also take a shot of the Tokyo Tower, which recalls enough a smaller and orange version of the more famous Eiffel Tower in Paris. It was nice to see all the cars, like little ants, moving back and forth along the the streets of Tokyo, transmitting all the energy of this city that seems to never sleep.
THE HATEFUL WESTERN ADVERTISING
And now a negative point. One thing for example that I didn’t like at all, was the ostentation of the great european and american brands that even here in Tokyo seem to necessarily make a show of themselves, filling the central streets of Tokyo with their big shops and their large signs, which i personally find pathetic and inappropriate. Unfortunately, it is a sad reality, but Tokyo has not escaped the phenomenon of expansion of the big brands of western clothing and perfumes. Find me on the other side of the world, and watch the same bags, perfumes and clothes brands you would have found in Paris, London or Rome, it wasn’t really atmospheric at all…..globalization….what a wonderful thing……
THE REFLECTIONS OF THE RAIN
At one point I even had the opportunity to enjoy a light drizzle, which made the place even more vibrant, with all the lights reflecting on the road surface. In particular, it was nice to see the pedestrian of Shibuya Crossing filling the air with their umbrellas, most of which even transparent, capable of still showing you the curious and interesting gaze of people.
THE SAFETY OF TOKYO…..WELL DONE
It was strange and curious, but while I was traveling with the subway late in the evening, I found some very young teenagers traveling alone. After investigating a little bit on internet, I later discovered that Tokyo is considered one of the safest cities in the world, with a crime rate very low, and this consequently also allows younger people to have access to public transport like the subway without concerns, even if it’s getting late.
THE UNUSUAL QUIET OF ASAKUSA
I want to spend some few words to also talk about a very remote district in the northeast of Tokyo, known as Taito district, or Asakusa. It is an area became popular for the presence of a great Buddhist temple called Sensoji, in front of which stands a delightful morning market, and a very characteristic giant paper lantern called Kaminarimon, another popular icon of Tokyo. In this place, in the evening, there was a calm and relaxing atmosphere, filled with the rain reflections of the lantern and temple lights. The market of course was closed in the evening, however, i have been able to still enjoy the pleasant feeling of loneliness, quite different respect to the chaos of the most central areas such as Shibuya, reason why, Asakusa represents a place that i certainly can suggest if one is willing to take some good night pictures of Tokyo and to enjoy some peace.
THE GOOD SOUND OF THE VIDEO ARCADES….
Aahh….the good old days of 80s, when the playstation didn’t exist yet. You just took some coins from the pocket of your pa (eh eh of course i always asked first), and went out to spend your afternoon in your favourite video arcade to play the latest games with your friends. Those times seem finished elsewhere (in Italy for example they are almost disappeared, although being very popular in the 80s and 90s), but this seems untrue for Tokyo.
Yes, here they still exist, and they are pretty technological. I was surprised when i saw the first one, absolutely modern and full of fantastic high resolution screens to play the games. It was nice and even nostalgic to spend some minutes inside one of them. After so long that I did not, I have been able to play again a classic game like Tekken (of course the very last version!)
AND THE BAD ONE OF PACHINKO ROOMS…..
One negative point however, goes to the curious and addicting phenomenon of the japanese pachinko halls, the very popular machines in Japan where you have to follow the movement of little spheres in the hope that they end up in the right place to win (i admit that i don’t know how to play pachinko, but this is what i guessed when i see one of them). The phenomenon of pachinko seems to be not only quite fashionable among japanese people, but also extremely addicting, at the point that many people use to spend hours and hours a day in this sort of Japanese casinos, probably trying to alienate the mind from the well known stress and chaotic life of this city, where everyone works very hard each day to reach the well known “perfection” for which Japan is famous, a characteristic for which, unfortunately, is not uncommon to see at night, thrown to the ground, some drunk Japanese guys, probably devastated by the stress of their job, and by litres of sake. I also remember that this was a quite common clichè of many 80s cartoons, where the typical father of the main character (such as in Doraemon cartoon for example) used to come back home very late in the night completely drunken, after a night spent with colleagues and some nice bottles of sake.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s not that in other countries you don’t find drunk people, but here is quite evident that this happens due to the high amount of stress, whereas in other countries like mine, Italy, getting drunk is more a way to be the idiot of saturday night and have some fun with your friends in the hope to give a different “sense” to your life.
Moreover, while from Italy i wouldn’t expect anything good, as i have the myth of japanese perfection, i wasn’t certainly expecting this to happen in Japan as well.
PROSTITUTION, MAFIA AND THE SEXUAL ADDICTION…MMMH…
While walking, in some areas i was approached by apparently almond-eyed yet non-japanese and “over the average” appealing women offering me a…..massage….i didn’t accept of course and i immediately wondered what was all about. Well, of course, it wasn’t hard for me to wonder that behind that massage there could have been something more…..(i could be wrong…..i could….) and due to that, i immediately remember about all the stories of the japanese mafia known as Yakuza…..I must admit that these women didn’t look to me to be japanese, but more chinese, or korean probably….I cannot say it anyway, but i was quite sure that they weren’t japanese at all.
Not only, while using the subway, i found that some carriages were reserved to women, as i read somewhere on Google, in the hope to stop the popular phenomenon of “palpation”, which has spreaded in Japan more than usual, due to a still “over the average” inclination of some japanese people to be sexually addicted. Not to talk about some erotic mangas featuring teenagers as their main characters, and even the phenomenon of japanese school girls prostitution of the last years…..Well, i can easily understand from which pulpit the myth of the used panty vending machine has born (because yes, i suspect it’s just a myth)……all this of course is also the signal that, despite the tourist myth of perfection, something wrong of course is out there, like in any other country i visited…Italy for first, where i live…..
THE STRESSFUL SIDE OF TOKYO…GLAD TO BE JUST A TOURIST…
Of course i also don’t want to forget that i’m just a tourist here. My experience as a traveller has teached me that when you visit a country as a tourist, you always have the eyes filled with love and enthusiasm, something that often brings you to also ignore that the place you are visiting, isn’t really good as you imagine it if you then decide to live in it. I often hear people telling me “oh wow, it would be so good to live in Italy like you do”. Of course, attracted by our beautiful cities like Rome, Florence and Venice, many tourists totally ignore that here in Italy, find a job, make a living, and dealing with our corrupted politicians is a totally different story…….I believe the same somehow is true for Japan. I even heard in the past of the word “karoshi”, used to indicate a strong job burnout that can lead people to die.
In conclusion, my evening visit to Tokyo clearly showed me many of the typical good and bad aspects of this city, some positive and some other negative. In my head will always remain the myth of the Japanese perfection, as it is in the mind of many other tourists and people dreaming to visit this country. However I must admit that the eyes of the tourists are always different from that of a citizen, and that, therefore, despite the wonderful atmosphere, I believe that Japan, as any other country, is not a perfect one at all, although, imperfections aside, it still and certainly remains an experience that is worth a try, and that will remain forever in my memory, reason for which i certainly will always recommend visiting Tokyo at night among the best things to do in Tokyo.
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