Sunday, June 24, 2018

Japan: Tokyo

Tokyo is a mishmash of a number of things. It's pretty with lovely gardens. It's busy at all its train stations. It's futuristic with its neon displays and technology. It's weird with its maid cafes and love hotels. It's cute with its pop and cosplay cult. It's warm with people willing to help you even if they have no idea what you are talking about. It's a bit hard to decide whether I like it or not. Most people I know find it very impressive and overwhelming.

For some reason, I found it slightly underwhelming. Dare I say this to anyone because you are expected to fall in love with Tokyo almost immediately. May be my expectations were clouded by people who visited many years ago. Tokyo apparently hasn't changed much in the last decade or so. I can imagine visiting it 10 years ago when I would be blown out of my mind by the technology or the subculture. But now, the world is fast catching up. Or may be I just kept upping my expectations of the the unexpected when the world has grown smaller and we know a lot more about the country.

The most impressive thing about Japan was the food. Everyone told us that before we went there and we completely dismissed it because we are not foodies. But food in Japan is amazing, and I don't mean Japanese food. Any food is so well made.The handmade sushi outside the Tsukiji fishmarket being awesome is expected, as is the Hida beef in Takayama that is internationally popular. But, a packaged brioche bun with butter and jam purchased from a local 7-11 was by far the best bun I have had. The avocado and shrimp sandwich in a cafe chain called Dontour is so fresh. And the pancakes we had at places we can't even remember were the fluffiest I've seen. They make any food just brilliantly, it is as simple as that.

Shibuya crossing for instance, didn't look as busy as I expected. May be because it's so open. Surely, the number of people there are a lot more objectively than at Canary wharf jubilee line entrance/ any Northern line station in zone 1 at rush hour. But because these places are smallish, everyone seems jam packed while Shibuya seemed open and able to accommodate crowds. We took so many pictures trying to take the perfect picture of a crowded crossing but we just couldn't get one because it wasn't crowded enough. And half the crowd is other tourists trying to create a crowd and take pic, or videoing themselves crossing.

Nevertheless, Tokyo is still impressive in every which way. Harajuku is like a constant cosplay with cute little stores selling you all kinds of hair accessories. It wasn't full of tourists as I expected. Well the streets were, especially Takeshita. But the little stores didn't have so many people and when it did they were all locals who were truly pumped about whatever it is that there browsing to buy, like full-on costumes from actual theatre/shows or Kpop magic.

Talking about pop, Akihabara is a crazy neighbourhood. It was the electronics town with the black market after the WWII. It is supposedly the birthplace of a lot of the electronics global brands that Japan is so famous for. Akihabara now is filled with video game arcades and manga and anime shops as well as some adult themed places like love hotels. Locally, it is probably most famous for the phenomenon that is AKB48. It is some kind of a pop girl band, except it has 130 members (48 originally) and viewer polls get to decide who stays or leaves the group making it a reality show, and they all look and dress alike. They have a theatre where they perform.

I liked the concept of Golden Gai and Omoido Yokocho where you have tiny places, each like a single room with a space for 10-15 people, some tinier with only space for 7. Some are bars and some are restaurants. They don't really have menus and the place we went to, the chef just brought us a basket of all the raw chicken and vegetables and we picked what we wanted grilled. The menu is just that, so they are not full-fledged restaurants. You can go hopping but I am guessing the experience is pretty much the same. Everyone is welcoming and unlike other places to hangout, Japanese here would interact with others (though mostly we only ran into other tourists, that too British or Australian).If there is no English signage however, tourists are so not welcome.

Our most important day around which our entire trip was planned was the traditional wedding reception. Some of our friends chose to don a kimono although I couldn't convince myself to wear it for about 5 hours. They looked lovely and I was indeed envious of their decision in the end. The venue was pretty and it was nice day out with everyone looking their best. The food looked great, let alone taste even though I went for their vegetarian options. The bride and groom were in traditional Japanese clothes and the most gracious hosts.

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