“Sorry… My English isn’t very good…” Apologised the old lady sat beside me on the plane (with a far better command of the language than half the English people I know). Thrusting an origami crane in my face she gestured that it was for me, smiling, “In Japan, we like to give.” She wasn’t lying – before I’d even arrived at Haneda airport I’d been presented with a whole flock of paper birds, several ornamental fans, and a host of questions about my upcoming adventure and whether I knew Kate Middleton.
Landing in Tokyo wasn’t the all-encompassing drain on my senses that I was expecting. Sure, the endless advertisements on the trains/ walls/ ceilings/ floors/ seats will make you wonder what on earth a grown-woman dressed as a lollipop and licking a washing machine could possibly be advertising. But? I was anticipating the sort of sensory-over-load that causes hemorrhages and psychological hernias. What I got? Was a colourful cacophony of futurism, politeness and an attack of logic – everything in Tokyo is logical – where you should stand is denoted on the floor, where you need to go next is articulated in huge signposts. It is almost impossible to get lost, and quite rude to even look lost – as that will force hardworking Tokyoians out of their way to help you.
Don’t be put off by strangers announcing,”It’s expensive…” – As someone whose last three residences have been in London, Windsor and Dubai – I can vouch that it’s far cheaper to stay in and configure Tokyo than any of those places. Yes, it’s more financially-taxing than many of its East-Asian neighbours… but other than accommodation and alcohol, everything else we purchased was far cheaper than they might have been in Chicago or Manchester.
And as for those that complain “It’s busy”? … See above! Besides, Tokyo isn’t busy in the same way that London or New York or Paris is busy. It’s not chaotic, or nonsensical tourists-wandering-hopelessly in the kind of frenetic circles that make you question Darwin’s theories of evolution, as you wonder what on earth DIED so this nonsense could live – NO. It’s an orderly, logical busy. It’s not noisy – the Japanese don’t favour extroverts or noise: I was slightly disappointed by Shibuya crossing for this very reason – I was expecting busy madness (the type you see on Middle-Eastern-roads) but found calm, logistical and intent hurrying instead. Perhaps that is the foreign feat so many marvel at when at Shibuya? The ability to be busy but not full of stupid.
Even the Metro is a joy to use. Download the Rail Map Lite app for Tokyo and you will feel like there is a Samurai taking your hand and leading your way: it’s just that easy!
So, Tokyo – Where to begin? Don’t visit Edo Palace on a Monday. We did, and it wasn’t open. The Emperor is possibly strutting about the grounds naked on a Monday – or something else he wishes to keep covert and private. So, we turned up a few days later, when it is accessible to the masses and found a vista of gardens and ruins and lots of places to relaxingly wander… Or just sit and stare, if like us you’re not acclimatised to the 100% humidity and need to lie down every 5 metres. The humidity is like sloppy kisses all over your skin – but not the loving type, NO – the ones you’d get from a stray dog in the park, or an aunty you haven’t seen in decades. So be vigilant!
Senso-Ji is one of my favourite temples in central Toyko, if not the world- It’s all big and red and ‘HELLO! I’M A TEMPLE, IN THE MIDDLE OF A CROWDED SHOPPING DISTRICT!’ Unashamedly brash and imposing, you can wander around it ringing its bells, lighting incense sticks and ruining other tourists pictures all day. If you’re not a fan of having a Chinese woman’s elbow repeatedly bashed against your nose, you might want to arrive early.
The Tokyo Sky-Tree is MASSIVE and definitely worth a visit – there’s nothing quite like judging a city from 600 metres in the air. It quickly becomes apparent how superlatively grandiose greater-Tokyo is; especially as when even from such lofty heights, you can’t view its perimeters, or anything close to them – it just sprawls and spreads into the neverseen. Earth’s most densely-populated metropolitan area – to put it in a British context, if London spread all the way to the Welsh border, it might be somewhere approaching urban-Tokyo’s size. Home to around 35 million people – that’s more souls than reside on the gargantuan Arabian peninsula, and twice as many as live in the entirety of Australia.
Go see a ball-game at Tokyo Dome – generally, Japan is viewed as the only first-world nation on earth that isn’t particularly westernised… Until you realise that western culture has managed to pervade its sports. Just like in the states, you can enjoy an over-priced beer as you spectate men in tights orbit the field. We saw the Yomiuri Giants VS Hanshin Tigers … And I have no idea who lost or who won, thanks to their selling of Kirin cider.
So let’s move on… Tokyo Disney is quite possibly my favourite Disney park on earth…WHY? There were barely any children there. Just hundreds of adults dressed from head-to-toe in Disney merchandise. Dream!
We couldn’t be the ONLY visitors NOT wearing Mickey t-shirts. So naturally, we bought some… And Minnie ears. And burgers shaped like Donald Duck’s feet. I literally smiled from the second we walked through the turnstiles, until we had to go and leave for the airport…
Up next: Kyoto, Nara and Hiroshima.