Tokyo – First Impressions

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Tokyo is an assault on the senses. The food, buildings, people and it’s sheer vastness combine to create a city that will blow you away. I have lived in Tokyo for just under 2 weeks now and I’m constantly amazed by this vast and diverse city. Whilst it would be wrong to say that Tokyo is beautiful, it is undeniably astounding. It is the biggest city in the world and when you are inside it, that’s truly how it feels.

Technically I don’t live in Tokyo, I live in Kawasaki; however most of Tokyo is accessible within an hour by train. Greater Tokyo is actually made up of several cities and populated areas but for all intents and purposes it may as well all fall under the same name as the city never really stops. So far I have barely scratched the surface but honestly a person could live their entire life here and never even come close to discovering all it’s secrets. Tokyo is an unimaginably huge and seemingly endless metropolis. I even heard an American say that it was actually a megalopolis. That is actually a real word. I googled it. I despair. Actually, personally I think that Tokyo is ultramegahugeopolis… so there.

The first night jet lagged and grumpy I arrived at the hostel in which I was staying. Within 10 minutes of getting there I had met an American army doctor on vacation. We decided shortly after to get some food and go out drinking. The conversation went.

“Hi, hows it going.”

“Good thanks. Just got in?”

“Yeah. I need a shower, then lets get drunk.”

“OK.”

VERBATIM

That first night was a blur of whisky, cigarettes and karaoke. We went out to get drunk and trust me, Tokyo provided. We were staying in Asakusa but we headed over to Roppongi to drink for a good part of the evening. Roppongi is where the majority of the westerners go to drink. I haven’t been back since, but sooner or later I’ll check it out as there is a wide variety of places to drink dance and have fun! Roppongi pretty much came across as a maze of pubs, bars and clubs as we didn’t hit it until nightfall. It’s not the cheapest area of Tokyo, but there is certainly fun to be had there and I would highly recommend it for anyone seeking mindless drunken shenanigans. We headed back to Asakusa before the last train and pestered a local salary-man there until he agreed to show us to a karaoke place. Once there we pestered him some more until he agreed to come and sing with us. After a good few hours we headed back to the hostel where we discovered a Super Nintendo and Street Fighter in the communal area. Words cannot express the joy that we both felt at that moment as we prepared to drunkenly revisit our childhood. We played this for quite a while, and probably disturbed a quite few people too by shouting “HADOUKEN,” every time Ryu threw a punch. Shortly after we went to bed.

Next day I was all set for doing nothing but my compadre from the evening before was awake and had decided to wake me up for breakfast and exploration. We started the day with Ramen. Ramen is damn good, and especially good when you’re hungover. A big bowl of greasy noodles, pork, and a soft boiled egg in a savoury soy broth. Additional braised cabbage with sesame, chilli and spices are all readily available to jazz up your ramen too in most places. One common misconception is that Japanese people have a healthy diet. They don’t. At least, many of them don’t. Yes Sushi is healthy, and there are other equally healthy things around, but there there is a lot more greasy, fried or sweet food readily available. They sell fried chicken in most convenience stores, and it’s good too. After the Ramen we headed to Shibuya. Shibuya crossing is just as you would expect, but it’s mind blowing all the same. Hundreds of people all crossing at the same time in a giant square. Advertisements from huge screens blurt out above your head on every side, people push past you and the streets stretch on for miles in each direction. Blade runner aint got shit on Shibuya.

In Tokyo the train system stops promptly at midnight, which means on any given night out you have to either know when your last train is and plan accordingly, or throw caution to the wind and let the chips fall where they may. The trade off is that there are many places to stay in each area you go, and most of them are cheap. One of the most popular choices if you get stuck in a district is to buy a karaoke booth and spend the night there. It costs about 4000 yen (£20, $40) to spend the night in a karaoke booth and that is including (in many places) unlimited booze. That’s right folks, Tokyo is the land of “All you can drink,” or as the locals call it “Nomi Holdai,” It is a dangerous, yet cost effective way to get drunk. I was out on an evening in which we were in the middle of a Nomi Holdai session and someone (English) said “C’mon mate, drink up! It’s drink as much as you can!” I questioned: “Isn’t the saying all you can drink?” To which I received a blank stare. I quickly finished my drink and ordered another. In these places you can also order an assortment of food, and I highly recommend doing so. Not because it is necessarily any good, but because without food you will wind up very drunk, and fast. Nomi Holdai is at it’s most dangerous in a Karaoke booth. Here, time and space will cease to exist. All you see will be bright lights, and all you hear will be singing, some good, some bad. The world outside will be shut off. Inside the booth is a phone, by which you can order more drinks, or food if you choose. The hours melt away and before long it’s 4am, you’re utterly fucked and you’re singing Park Life as loud as you possibly can in an over the top Lahndan accent. I have since come to realize that karaoke is EVERYWHERE in Tokyo. They love that shit, and I can see why, it’s so much fun! The Japanese take it to the next level. For £12 per head you can buy a karaoke booth for 2 hours in most places with unlimited drinks. The booth consists of a large karaoke machine next to the door, a big flat screen TV, 2 wireless microphones, and various bells and whistles including a few (very) loud speakers and stage lighting on the ceiling. You can comfortably fit about 12 or so people in one booth, and these karaoke machines have nearly every song you could possibly think of. The types of karaoke venue vary but the central premise stays mainly the same, a booth, karaoke machine, seating, a table and 2 microphones.

The Japanese seem to have a mild mannered and reserved society, yet in Tokyo pornography and prostitution are everywhere. It is thrust in your face in most corner shops and there are massage parlours dotted all over with girls in skimpy clothing calling out “massagi,” to men as they pass. A few friends of mine have checked out the 7 floor sex department store and they described it thusly:

“We decided to start at the top. Giggly and intrigued we made our way through the funny costumes, various appliances, instruments and DVD’s. As we descended downwards though this building the content got darker, the fetishes got freakier and our smiles began to fade. As we neared the bottom the trend towards smaller/younger looking women on display began to get more and more obvious. There were miniature dolls that were in fact male masturbators, the tag line in Japanese being “F**k her up to her brain.” By the time that we reached the lowest level our smiles were gone and we were only continuing to exploring through sheer morbid curiosity. We left heads lowered, barely talking, both feeling empty and visually abused.”

The weather so far is fairly similar to that of England, though more tropical. It’ll be raining one day and sunny the next. For the most part though the air in winter completely lacks humidity and this has had an unfortunate side effect; it causes me to receive regular electric shocks. For a while, every metal door handle, fridge handle, surface or object would shock me and it was really quite irritating. There has also been some serious downpours since I got here, usually accompanied by umbrella breaking wind. I am told that this gets much worse during the monsoon season.

For my part I work for a company that teaches English as a foreign language. Having waited, bar tended, shaken cocktails, cooked food and managed in restaurants and bars for the past 9 years I was very ready for something new. I still love food and drink culture with a passion and may well go back to it someday, but for now, whilst I am young and free enough to do so I want to travel. Since I can speak Britanish well gud, I thought that would be fairly decent passport to take me around the world and Japan is as good a place to start as any.

From it’s vast variety of food to it’s incredibly diverse markets and fashion culture, there is no doubt that everyone could find something that would interest them here. If you are not careful, unless you speak the language and understand the culture Tokyo is a city that could quite easily chew you up and spit you out. If there is only bit of advice about Tokyo that is vitally important it is that never, ever, under any circumstances should you ever…

These are just the beginning of my adventures… there will be more to follow.

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