A Trip to Tokyo- Day 1
I was invited to a local reunion of alums from my study abroad program, and decided to take them up on it and wheel out East for two days, to some more great cities of Japan.
Let’s hear it for window seats! After being buried inside the damn plane for all of my incoming flights, I finally get to see something!
Tokyo has a strange dynamic to it, less like a big city and more like several big cities, each ward having its own downtown and outskirts. Technically the City of Tokyo doesn’t really exist anymore, so each ward is basically its own city. They even refer to themselves as cities in English sometimes. The shinkansen dropped me off in the “city” of Chiyoda. Nobody really lives there, but its an administrative nerve center, with a big financial and corporate presence, and all the capital and national government buildings, like DC’s National Mall. It’s also Tokyo’s historical center, where the original Edo Castle was, and where the emperor now lives.
Marunouchi, the financial district of Chiyoda, is a strange, strange place, because it doesn’t feel like Japan at all. The urban space is set up so differently from the usual Japanese city with its relatively small, densely packed buildings, bewilderingly diverse storefronts on multiple floors, and general tolerance of decrepitude and wear. Marunouchi is an American-style urban office park, with large, clean, steel and marble high-rises spaced by broad sidewalks, the only things there being corporate offices and the occasional high-end clothier you never see anyone actually step into. I literally had little moments walking through where I wondered whether I had entered a coma in Japan and been shipped back Stateside to some “new city” like Phoenix or Houston.
Chiyoda surrounds the imperial palace, former Edo Castle, which as someone from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory said, nobody enters, and no one leaves.
The divide between Chiyoda and neighboring Shinkuju ward is sharp.
The reunion was pretty neat. A good friend and classmate from the study abroad days works in the northeast of Japan; we met up and went to the reunion together. We were the youngest there, among some people who had been through the program when it was brand new. Some of them have been living in Japan for over a decade now. Think I might join their ranks, given the chance. They were all living in Tokyo, and I detected a whiff of that edokko snootiness, as if they wondered silently what I saw in a dump like Osaka. I’ll show them, I will, when I settle down here…
I got a capsule hotel for the night, so I didn’t have to take a train back across Japan late as hell or cut my visit early.
The capsule was actually a lot more spacious than I thought it would be. I could actually sit up straight in it. My light was broken, though, so I had to use the built-in TV to see what I was doing. There’s only one channel available, with decidedly adults-only programming. Another facet in my Total Japan Experience…
I always try to discern the character of a city when I stop through. Osaka is a big, wild, tangled, undiluted city that, in some intangible way, seems to yearn for the 1960s, when it was at the height of its postwar influence and population. Tokyo, on the other hand, is a step beyond wild- it’s hovering on the brink of utter madness, it is megalopolis, it IS Babel The Great. So many people and so much energy flows through the city it is beyond description. Like Osaka, Tokyo reached its peak population in the 1960s, but Tokyo feels like a city attempting to live the eternal now, nostalgia for the 18th-century age of Edo notwithstanding.