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Japan, Tokyo
Krzysztof Gorzelak   

Japan, Tokyo

“I’ll show you a place / High on a desert plain / where the streets have no name” – Bono sang on the “Joshua Tree” record. When you stand on the viewpoint of one of the twin towers of Tokyo Tocho and you watch grey buildings stretching up the horizon, you can easily think that those words perfectly match the biggest concrete desert of the world, where tremendous sky scrapers launch from the Kanto plain, and side streets with no name bend around them.

Eastern capital, as this is the literal meaning of the contemporary name of the old seat of shoguns, is probably the most fascinating place in Japan. I could exaggerate a bit and say that in order to see the most magnificent palaces and temples in this country, well-preserved districts of geishas and samurais, monumental castles of feudal lords – in brief all this what constitutes the most precious material proof of cultural heritage of Japan, I went to the centre of the capital city only to catch a Tokkaido shinkansen heading West, to places such as Kyoto, Nara, Himeji, Miyajima, Nagasaki. And after return from the Kansai plain to the Tokyo Bay I went up north, to more rarely visited by gaijin tourists Nikko, Kanazawa and Matsushima.

Then, what makes Tokyo that extraordinary? Contrary to cities as Kyoto or Kanazawa, it is rather not what Tokyo used to be, but what it is today. But is it at all possible to try depict what this city is? Any generalisation surely will be more false here than in case of European cities. Tokyo is simply to huge for this, it’s too formless, it does not have distinct borders or a single city centre.

Sightseeing of the Japanese capital could resemble a carrousel ride – all you need to do to start it, is to catch the loop line of the city raiway – “Yamanote line”, every day carrying around 3.5 mln passangers on a route of 29 stations (compare this one line with the whole New York City subway network, consisting of 468 stations and servicing daily around 5 mln passangers). Succeeding stations placed on the Yamanote line are gates to various “downtowns” – more or less specialised in certain functions city centres.

Let us take a uchi-mawari train (literally „inner circle”), running Yamanote line counterclockwise (what obviously implies that traffic in Japan is, as it was in Austria before WWI, i.e. – left side).

Let us start from Shinjuku, probably the most universal downtown, a centre for offices, services and entartainment. This is the place where hero of Murakami’s “Wind-up bird chronicle” sat on a bench watching the passerbies. What an extravagant thing to do in this district, so rushy even for Tokyo standards! Human waves flowing fast on the Shinjuku station simply make you join one of them and once you do it it is really not worth risking stopping even for a moment to contemplate the surroundings. Shinjuku is a city, full of offices – this is the place where, among others, the metropolitan authorities have their headquarters, in the interiors of the above mentioned towers of Tokyo Tocho.

Harajuku is a district situated two stations south from Shinjuku. It looks like a place projected to release the tensions which are present in the conformistic Japanese society. It is here where crowds of “rebelled” young people bustle about, manifesting their disobiedence to the Japanese dogma of laborious career building in corporations. Having walked down all Takeshita-dori one may have impression, that the rebelled youngsters are victims of the standardisation too – their appearance and behaviour look even more uniform than in case of “normal” inhabitants of Tokyo.

Down south one will find Shibuya – district of commerce and entertainment, visited mostly by young people. Can you remember the scene from “Lost in translation”, when Scarlett Johansson strolling in a rain down a long pedestrian crossing watches with astonishment huge video banners located on surrounding buildings? And later on, at the same place but in the evening, she runs with Bill Murray between green cabs? That place is Shibuya Crossing, the most famous crossing in Japan. Traffic lights work here in such a way, that green lights for pedestrians going in every direction turn on simultaneously. Owing to this, the moment when the vacant space of the crossing suddenly fills with people as at a command, makes really special impression.

Passing through subsequent stations it is worth to get off at Yurakucho, to see Ginza – one of the most characteristic districts, probably due to lack of atmosphere of hurry and rush, so sharp in other parts of the city. Here one can see untypical for Tokio buildings of European style and, assuming proper content of wallet, do some shopping. For Ginza is full of luxurious stores. Prices of simple groceries may be crippling here too, but it needs to stressed that packing of goods is brilliant, even if we have in mind Japanese sensitivity for aestethics.

Going then up north one will see Akihabara – centre of trade for cheap electronic devices, actually a giant bazaar. Whenever you look around, colourfull ads hit your eyes (unfortunately I haven’t visited Akihabara at night, instead I could watch wonderful play of blinding neons in Dotombori district in Osaka – a place which is said to had inspired Ridley Scott to create an incredible vision of a metropolis of future in the “Blade runner”).

Akihabara was a fiftheenth station on the Yamanote line, starting from Shinjuku. To make a full circle, one shall pass through 14 following stations, among them Ueno, Ikebukuro. But it is just a first stage of Tokyo sightseeing. It is unimaginable to skip “old town” of Asakusa, club district in Roppongi or corny Odaiba at the Tokyo Bay. But that is already a story about completely different tracks of JR...

Special thanks to Suno and Kaisei, my invaluable guides in Kanto



                Ginza                                                                  Akihabara 


                Harajuku                                                            Shinjuku
Komentarze (1)
1 czwartek, 16 kwietnia 2009 16:35
not bad, not bad at all

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