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Continue following Alex through Tokyo in part II

Taking in Tokyo – part I

Alex Bonello - Tokyo - Shiibuya Square - by night

If you live in Europe it is one of the furthest destinations on Earth and is also somewhat of a geographical dead end. However, in spite of its distance and its relative impracticality as part of an easy round travel circuit, Japan should be on every discerning traveller’s list of must see’s.

And of course the fact that Japan is one of those places you hear so many weird and wonderful things about, only makes it so much more enticing. It can virtually sound like a different planet from afar. You hear of samurai, ninjas, geishas, tea ceremonies, maid cafes, schoolgirl uniformed waitresses, dragons and hobgoblins, or was that last one associated to Ireland instead?

Then you get there and realise that there aren’t samurai vs ninja battles at every street corner. The only couple of geishas we encountered were purely decorative and strictly for touristic purposes. And although all that I mentioned above does truly exist in Japan, it is a bit like expecting to see A-list celebrities everywhere when in LA, or running into the queen on Oxford Street, or again meeting milk maids everywhere in Holland, if you get the gist.

Yet Japan is still an extremely intriguing place with a rather different culture to ours. However at the same time, due to the organisation, cleanliness, high technological level and overall development of the country, it does not feel so alien after all. Although such comparisons are odious, I must admit that when we had visited China, the culture shock there was immensely greater than in Japan.

The Japanese must also be the politest people on Earth. This is perhaps the most stunning and pronounced aspect of this country, where everyone without exception will only show you politeness, kindness and complete helpfulness. You are very humbly greeted by everyone, saluted with never ending singsongs whenever you enter or exit a building, people jump in very keenly to help others. We saw people virtually fighting on the underground to give each other their seat, others pushing and shoving to help an elderly person carry a heavy bag. We had half the staff of a metro station falling over themselves to give us a few cents refund after we accidentally purchased slightly more expensive tickets. Policemen walk with you for miles to show you the way. From all the people we encountered, I cannot remember having met even one single individual who was not excessively and exceedingly polite in every possible way. It does make you think where the rest of the world went wrong…

The people’s inherent politeness and willingness to help, largely compensates for their general inability to speak good English. So do not be daunted by communication problems, as everyone’s efforts will ensure that you are never stuck in any way.

Tokyo alone is a world on its own and merits an entire trip in its own right.  One also must keep in mind that Tokyo is by far the world’s most populous city. The population of its urban area is around 38 million, which compared to the population of entire countries would put it in 36th place out of 256 nations! It has a population higher than Canada or Australia, all packed into one massive city and there are many places where you distinctly feel it.

This is definitely the case at the famous and iconic Shibuya Crossing, where up to 2,500 pedestrians cross in every two minute interval and up to one million people a day! But then again there are many parks and gardens and secluded corners all over town and right in the centre, where Tokyo actually feels like some sleepy country town. So the crowds and the madness can be easily avoided, as many a beautiful, tranquil garden exists.

On the other hand one of the drawbacks of such a huge city is the time it takes you to get in and out. Based on this, it might make more sense to stay put unless you are there for more than a week. The main airport Narita alone is over 60 kilometers from the centre and takes around one hour by express train or an hour and a half by taxi, if you are willing to invest around € 250 each way.

An interesting feature about Tokyo is that there are so many different centres of activity, unlike many cities which only have one main hub. Tokyo has many districts, all with their own buzzing centre and with their specific characterisations and specialities. Some are known for mainstream shopping, or for specialised shops, others for temples and sights, some for offices, others for parks and walks and also those for nightlife and entertainment. So in many ways it is nearly like many cities fused into one. The convenience and practicality of this as a tourist, is that all you have to do is head to the centre of a different district every day and simply explore something different each time.

If you like to visit a city up close and personal, then you’ll also be pleased to hear that most parts of town are also quite pedestrian friendly. So you can comfortably walk around until your sore feet say stop and guide you into a bar or café for the beverage of your choice.

 

 
 
 
Written by Alexander Bonello
Alexander Bonello is a writer and a marketing consultant. After having created
and directed a wide ranging number of businesses in various service industries,
he now dedicates much of his time advising others on marketing and related business activities.
He also spends as much time as possible doing what he enjoys best – writing.
 
 
 

Part II following on in the next post.


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