Travel

Notes from Tokyo

Photo: Getty Images/ iStock

Photo: Getty Images/ iStock  

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There was no city centre to be found — Tokyo is a million cities in one

Jet lag hit me hard. But I decided to walk the electrifying streets of Tokyo the very afternoon I landed there.

Not many cities have transformed from a small fishing village to a neon-lit urban spread. Tokyo is one of the best man-made creations: a metropolis that is now home to more than 35 million people. A lot of what we see in Tokyo was built after the Great Kantō earthquake of 1923, and the bombings of World War II.

From my hotel room, I saw skyscrapers all around, clustered in multiple bunches. “Tokyo is a million cities in one,” said the receptionist in fine English when I asked her to guide me to the city centre to know more about the place. “It’s a big metropolis, and there is not one centre. But you can start with Harajuku.”

Though it was Thursday afternoon, Harajuku was crowded with teenagers, all fashionably dressed and carrying big glasses of bubble tea — sweet milk tea with tapioca seeds at the bottom. The streets were peppered with boutiques selling clothes, music, books and, of course, bubble tea.

There were a few unique shops, and the one that caught my attention had air masks to battle the polluted air of Tokyo. The masks came in different colours — from vibrant pink to neon yellow — and the shop was crowded with millennials. I checked out a few masks and decided I would not need them in the relatively clean air of Sweden where I live.

Milling crowds

Outside, the walls of the skyscrapers had large advertisement screens flashing content ceaselessly. I merged with the crowd and let the flow guide me to the next destination. The crowd seemed to converge at an underground station.

Trains in Tokyo are notorious for the rush during peak hours. I checked the time and saw the crowd around. I boarded one of the trains leaving from Harajuku station. The compartment was packed. I stumbled out after only one stop, at the Shibuya station. Shibuya is another famed district of Tokyo, lined with skyscrapers and known for the remarkable Scramble Crossing, named so because multiple lines criss-cross one another. While crossing, one needs to know exactly where to head to avoid getting lost.

I had no idea where to go so I just followed another group of foreigners. That group entered a restaurant, and I went my way. Shibuya has multiple dining options, ramen joints and trendy cafes — both expensive and affordable ones. The best way to view the Scramble Crossing is to sit on a rooftop cafe.

I wandered off the neon-lit hoardings and the mad frenzy of Shibuya only to stumble into the nightlife of Shimokitazawa district, which is a couple of kilometres walk from Shibuya. This is a much calmer area, at least on the outside, for all the action lies in the various music halls and pubs hosting local rock bands.

I realised that I had been walking for hours, and it was dark now, though the concept of darkness is defeated thoroughly by the absurdly lit streets of Tokyo. I had by now forgotten my jet lag, but decided to visit the street again the next day and check out the local music scene.

I searched for an underground station, a little apprehensive of the crowded tiny compartment that I would have to bury myself in. But well, that’s the experience one can have only in Tokyo.

The adrenaline rush-seeking travel writer lives in Malmö, Sweden.

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Printable version | Dec 12, 2019 2:19:19 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/life-and-style/travel/notes-from-tokyo/article29736282.ece

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