I wanted to go to Tokyo, because it was usually mentioned as one of the most progressive cities of the world among New York, London, Paris, and Rome. We planned the trip half a year ahead and flew there for two weeks this summer. It was my first visit to the far East, and a lot of things I saw there amazed me.
On one hand, Tokyo is very urban: it has well established transportation system, skyscrapers, video billboards, newest trends. On the other hand, Tokyo is very traditional: there are a lot of Buddhist shrines, orderly parks, steady rules of ethics, school uniforms, office workers in suits.
Japanese are polite people. When greeting someone, saying goodbye, or appreciating, they always bow. During two weeks I also started bowing. Despite over 12 million residents in Tokyo, it is quite safe in the streets comparing to other big cities of the World. Also there are not so many beggars. People are helpful to each other. When we were searching for the hotel, a woman asked us what we were searching for and led us at the easy-to-be-mistaken streets to the required address. When we got lost in a big metro station, one passer-by offered help and guided us for 10 minutes till the necessary platform. When we were eating in a canteen, the owners talked to us about Europe and then we got some food as a present to take away. It seems that Japanese are living by the rule: One should treat others as one would like others to treat oneself.
There are lots of shrines in Tokyo. The biggest of them are Senso-ji temple in Asakusa district near a market and Meiji Shrine in a forest in Shibuya district. As we hadn’t seen Buddhist shrines before, it was interesting to check how people are behaving there. Nobody went to the shrine, but rather they were praying at the entrance. People put incenses to a big censer. Also people were scooping water from a fountain, rinsing their mouths, and washing faces. Another thing that we saw was some kind of auguring of sticks, where you take a box of sticks and randomly take one stick with a number of it. The number tells what drawer to open in a shelf and take a piece of paper with wishes or answers to your inner questions. I wanted to try that myself, but everything was written in hieroglyphs there. Also we saw how people write their wishes on wooden cards and put them on a wall. Later monks pray for that.
Akihabara district in Tokyo is a paradise for Otaku subculture. Otaku are fans of manga, anime, and computer games. There are a lot of computer game centers and pachinko machines’ houses in Akihabara. Also there are several Maid cafes, where clients are served by young-looking Japanese girls dressed as maids.
If you want to see some modern life, you have to go to Shibuya or Shinjuku districts. You can find some stylish youth walking with transparent umbrellas on rainy days. Your eyes will dive into billboards (sometimes even with some sound). You’ll be surprised by never-ending crowds at the big Shibuya crossing. Japanese like karaoke. We tried it for half an hour too. Every group of visitors get a special room with TV, microphones, and sound system.
I’ll tell you something about the novelties. At some phone service centers we saw a robot Pepper which had been introduced to the world just a week before the trip. You can talk to the robot and he reacts to your emotions. Unfortunately we haven’t figured out if he can speak English, or just Japanese. Everywhere in the city there stand vending machines with drinks, and sometimes with snacks or souvenirs. In the underground of one train station, we found a virtual fitting cabin, where you can see in a screen, how a chosen piece of cloth fits on you. As it was a new device, an employee from a shop assisted interested passers-by. Also I tried out a machine of augury of palm, where you have to put your hand into a mouth of a statue and it prints you a couple of sheets with the description of your life. What was in the results, I don’t know. Is there anybody who can translate that to me from Japanese?
In Tokyo there are a couple of places where you can observe the city from above. I mostly liked the view from Mori Art Museum. Also the view is quite spectacular from Tokyo Sky Tree. The entrance to Tokyo Metropolitan Government Office is free, but at night there are too many reflections in the windows, so photos are not so perfect.
The after-midnight working hours of bars are usually written as the extension of the same day, for example: 11:00-25:00. At the restaurants and canteens, there are plastic copies of the food you can get inside. The most popular dish is not Sushi as I had thought, but ramen noodle soup. Before food, you get a glass of water. After lunch, you have to pay at the cash desk next to the exit. They show the total price in shops or snack bars in a calculator. From all the strange food I tried there, I would accentuate the ice-cream with sweet beans, soft sweets made of green tea, and marinated octopus.
Despite the traditions, globalization is happening in Japan too. Here and there you can see Starbuck’s, H&M, Prada, Mc Donalds. There is a copy of Eiffel Tower (called Tokyo Tower) and also the American Statue of Liberty. There is a Disneyland and quite a lot of shops of Disney merchandise.
The WC in metro stations and sometimes outside are for free. Hotels and shopping centers even have toilets that wash you bottom with a stream of water. Smoking is only allowed in special smoking zones or smoking places in restaurants. Garbage is sorted.
The city trains are quite expensive. In some metro stations you can hear birds tweeting. Before getting into a train, everybody stands in a row at the door of the train. Inside the public transportation there are handles to grab while standing in five rows. Those who get a place to sit, usually sleep, or read comics (the books are written backwards there), or play mobile games.