Tokyo is extraordinary

Cherry blossoms.
Cherry blossoms.

Tokyo entirely lived up to expectations today: maid cafes, cherry blossoms, weird vending machines, surging crowds, kimono-clad women walking the streets.

After a night flight to Japan, almost anything we did today would have felt a little dream-like and surreal. But Tokyo doesn’t really need any help on that front. We started our day of touring the highlights touring the Ameyoko market that specialises in dried goods and American knock-off clothing. The dried goods were interesting and in many cases tasty. We were, though, less than thrilled to find they included the evidence of Japan’s ‘scientific whaling’.

Nearby the Ueno Park is home to one of the best displays of cherry blossoms when they are in bloom. By the time we arrived there were only two trees left in bloom, but they were lovely and gave a hint of the glory when all the trees burst out. We learnt how to cleanse ourselves before entering a temple using water pouring from a dragon’s mouth. The boys had their fortunes read by shaking a box until a numbered stick fell out, the stick lead to a drawer from which they extracted a random bit of paper. Both had good fortunes. The funny thing was that Declan’s said “Always travelling around since your childhood has given you a lot of places.”

Dragon fount for cleansing.
Dragon fount for cleansing.

Then more shopping streets. I must admit Tokyo seems to be a mecca of consumerism. And these days it’s not quite as exciting as it was when it was full of stuff you could find nowhere else. Even Akhihabara, which the geek in me had been so looking forward to, while still entertaining, is largely selling the iPads and Android devices you’ll find anywhere else you look. I was more taken with the fantastic ramen we had for lunch in the heart of the district. Even that had an angle though. You chose what you wanted from the menu, ¬†went to a ticket vending machine and bought the relevant ticket, then ¬†handed it over to the waitress to get your meal.

On again to the Meiji Shrine which presents a lovely contrast to the bustle of Tokyo. Built to house the spirit of the Meiji Emperor and his Empress you enter via three enormous wooden gates. The whole place is constructed out of wood without nails and set amidst a forest made of trees from all over Japan.

A final stop took us back into the noisy, modern, consumerist heart of Tokyo. We visited the huge crossing that has featured in so many movies. This is a crossing that shifts thousands in a go. Crossing is like jumping into a river – once you’re in there you have no choice but to move with the crowd. We finally visited a pachinko parlour: A smoke-filled, noise drenched room filled with dedicated gamblers dropping thousands of steel balls into brightly glowing machines. Each ball noisily dropping and bouncing its way to a winning or loosing position.

Tokyo is extraordinary.

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