It's odd as after spending several weeks back in the 1990s (seriously at times in NZ; despite them keeping up with several modern developments, I felt like it was 1995 there), I have now been accelerated into the future as I arrive in Tokyo Japan. The final stop on the trip.
Tokyo is quite a shock to the senses when you first arrive, and this certainly wasn't helped by the long haul flight overnight, and the watching of two rather discombobulating films under these circumstances. These films were The Lovely Bones, which is both depressing and trippy in equal measure; like watching Silent Hill on acid, and The Road, which is drab and depressing; to the point that a night spent listening to Leonard Cohen reading the dictionary would seem an enthralling high by comparison. And then there was the usual immigration to be done with, and bag collection, which I will not miss once this is all finished.
As soon as I got out of the airport I could tell I was very much back in Asia again.
There's that usual feel of overcrowdedness, I saw in my other Asian travels, although this time I felt a little more overwhelmed by the industriousness of this country. Also, much like in Hong Kong, I was back in the scenario of not knowing where to eat, as despite the fact there were pictures of the food on offer, I knew neither what they were, nor how to ask for them. Saying that though you can't go too far wrong with the Sushi here, which is noticeably fresher and nicer than the stuff at home. Still on the plus side, compared to my other Asian adventures, you get hassled a lot less, in fact you aren't hassled at all. It's also not as expensive here as you would imagine. Sure the prices are on a par with London, but you get such better service for that cost. Also the prices are nowhere near as high as the Australian ones and once you get a grip on what food is and how to ask for it, it is really very tasty.
One thing is though, you do feel slightly disappointed - despite logically knowing they're impossible - when you don't see certain Japanese stereotypes around the city, such as Godzilla, people battling Pokemon (which lets face it is just an imagined; legalized version of cock fighting. On that note, even a grim attempt by an obsessed fan to manually construct a Pokemon, say by adding electrodes to the cheeks of a mouse and painting it yellow, would have made me feel this is more like the Japan I knew from TV) people in Gundam robot suits or even Power Ranger-like crime fighters. This is the way the Japanese world is often portrayed to the world at large. When instead the reality is that Tokyo it is a normal city on the surface.
So what is there to see? First of all I went to see the Sony building, where you can try out some of the new technological innovations. One of which was the new 3D TV, and whilst I might accept the offering was very cool, I did feel a bit disorientated after trying it for a few minutes. Perhaps they may want to sort that matter out before releasing it. Still on the plus side I didn't suffer a seizure, which is the ailment stereotypically, linked with Japanese visual stimulation (aside from explosive nosebleeds in anime cartoons; when a male is aroused by female nudity). Also I had a look at some very impressive HD hand-held cameras， and all sorts of other HD wonderment.
Another excursion I made was to the Pokemon center, which is a store which sells everything Pokemon, although unlike in the game they don't heal your fainted Pokemon which left me a little disappointed (although to be fair, I think my home made Pikachu abomination would need more serious medical attention then they could offer at a Pokemon center). All in all it was a surreal experience, as inside they play the theme music for the Pokemon center from the video game itself. Only in Japan.
Another oddity I've noticed here is that at the station; when disembarking from the train, there seems to be this chiming music, which sounds very similar to the sort of music you'd hear when completing a level of a video game, and your final score is added up. I keep wondering if I'm playing some sort of game called 'Tokyo Commuter' and am in fact beating a level as I leave the train. If that's the case I wonder what my score is and how much XP I need before I level up.
As per the normal expectations of Japan, Tokyo is full of shrines and well tended gardens. It's a bit of a city of contradictions in this sense as on one hand you are surrounded by the buzz of the city and modern stresses, whereas you can still find some tranquility and tradition within the streets of this modern metropolis. The gardens are really quite amazing, and are well kept to the point of obsession. The one thing to take from this is that if you want a garden well kept, ask the Japanese to do it, you won't find a leaf or branch out of place. The temples are also quite interesting to see. Sure I've seen loads of temples around Asia, but here they seem a little humbler at times than the Chinese inspired variants. They tend to be less colourful and more conservative in design.
The city unsurprisingly is a haven for shops, especially if - like me - you want to get your hands on anime merchandise, which is unavailable in Europe or America. For this I took a walk round Akihabara where you can find, Tokyo 'electric town'. Here, you can get pretty much anything electrical you desire; Cameras; TVs; video games; you name it. I personally was in the market for a Dragonball Scouter (because of a You Tube meme, look here for why), which I was able to find in one of the toy sections of a department store in the area. Aside from this, there is all manner of memorabilia and toy items available to satisfy the inner geek. One of the strangest things on sale however, was a large Tony the Tiger stuffed toy. I know old Tony is a popular mascot, but really?
One of the more unique experiences I had in Tokyo however, was in my trip to the Studio Ghibli Museum. The ethos of the museum, according to the brochure, is: "Let's lose our way together," and from the off you are sucked into the free spirited world of the studio. The design inside, gives a pretty good idea of what it must be like to walk around inside the head of legendary director Hayao Miyazaki. It's delightfully quirky and eccentric, with it's spiral staircases and stained glass windows of beloved Ghibli creations. With the admission you also get a celluloid cell from one of the movies and you get to watch a specially made (for the museum) film which is unavailable anywhere else. The movie itself had a simple story, and was made quite amusing by the fact all the sound effects were performed by a vocal cast, rather than using standard sound effects. A cute feature to the museum is a soft play area featuring a large soft 'Cat bus,' from the movie My Neighbour Toroto, and there is also a very interesting display on moving image and how the films are produced. It was surely one wacky day out.
Another wacky day was my trip to Harajuku station and Yoyogi Park. Harajuku is well known for its quirky crows of Cosplayers, who gather on weekends. The park however is a sight also as it attracts crowds of bequiffed rockabilly dancers, who gather in sort of gangs and dance to music from the 1950s and 60s. It's the sort of thing you'd only see here, although I would liken the practice to the Elvis impersonators you can find in Las Vegas and dotted around the place. Here at least it's treated with some respect by other locals, and at worst mild amusment from tourists and locals alike.
While in Japan I attempted a day trip to Kyoto. Now Kyoto is certainly a beautiful city, with lots to see. Unfortunately when only there for a few hours this can make the entire experience into one massive rush, as was my experience. This was quite a frustrating fact as in the few hours I enjoyed in the city, and I was quite taken with how nice some parts of it are. Still looking to the positives, this was much chance to take the bullet take the super-fast Nozomi train (which the JR Railpass doesn't cover) as these rocket along the tracks at a frightning speed, and also make fewer stops.
Another must for the Tokyo tourist is a trip to Shibuya, where the famous street crossing, where several hundred people pile across the road at once, lies. This is good to see up close, but reminds you of how crowded Tokyo is as a city. It's even worse if you go into the station from here. But seeing it is certainly a must if you do come here. Also there is a statue on the station side commemorated to a dog called Hachiko; who would loyally come to the station everyday to wait for his master, even after his master's death. The resultant statue is a kind of physical reminder of his loyalty and the affection of the community for their local legend, of sorts.
I also popped over to Ueno park, and visited the Zoo there. Sadly, much to my disappointment, they didn't have a giant panda there, as the last one - Ling Ling - had died of heart failure in 2008 (someone should have told him all that bamboo wasn't too good for his health), so I had to make do with the funny, but not as giant, red panda. Still on the plus side the Zoo had all manner of other interesting beasts on display. Such as gorillas, elephants, hippopotamus, and rhinos.
Sadly, I've now come to the end of my travels, which is rather worrying, as I haven't a clue what to do now. Still the last three and a bit months have been spectacular, and I hope that this isn't the last trip of this kind I undergo. It wasn't exactly as I planned it but then they do say, 'the way to make god laugh is to tell him your plans'. Also chosing Japan as a finale was a pretty good way to round things off, as it's a country which somehow has a grasp on both it's inner child and adult simultaneously, and makes it a hugely enjoyable place to visit.