Posted tagged ‘description’

The city of the future: Tokyo

July 18, 2009

(I’ve never done this before, never had the chance, but I’m writting this during my latest trip from my hotel room. Normally my rule is to try and cut myself off from technology for a bit while I wander, makes things more interesting both while I’m gone and when I get back. Iuse internet cafe and the like to stay in touch with family and friends. But in this case I had the opportunity to rent a laptop for the evening from my hotel along with internet access, so I’m taking the opportunity to bend my rule some and get some typing done while things are fresh in my mind. I doubt I’ll be getting another similar chance for awhile, so regular updates are still a ways off for when I’m home and unhurried, but this is a chance I’d be a fool to pass up and considering I’m *at* the place I’m writing about this time, I’d say my memories are fresh. All that said, here it is, a writeup on Tokyo, Japan.)

This is the future. This city, right here, is the future of the world if things continue the way they are going and populations world wide continue to rise at such an increased rate. Tokyo. A city of over 35 millionpeople producing a GPD of over a trillion dollars. To sum that all up nicely, this relatively little city (Size wise Tokyo isn’t terribly big, go figure!)not only has more people living in it than all of Canada, a country… let’s do some quick guess math here; You could fit roughly 16078 (holy shit) cities of Tokyo into. Not only that, but probably makes more money too! It’s insane!

So with that said you’ll be unsurprised to hear Tokyo is a very crowded city. Everywhere you go there are crowds, people, noise and disturbances. This city is alive in a way no other city I’ve ever been to is, the city *thrives*, hums, and moves in such a way that after having spent a fair while here, I begin to suspect the city itself is alive. Some giant, massive beast beneath the earth slowly awakening and bursting to life. I’ve gotten this impression before: London reminded me of some grand slumbering beast. But unlike London, Tokyo is awake! There’s no other way to describe it. To see these giant throngs of people moving to and fro beneath the glare of mammoth neon lights and to hear that constant thrum of life; it’s the blood-flow, the eyes and deep, earth-shaking breaths of the beast. Tokyo is alive and awake!

It is also very, very confusing. Not the subway mind you, although the Tokyo metro is indeed one of the more troublesome I’ve met. No, it’s just the way a city presents itself to you is usually very clear. A specific vibe that this particular city likes to show off and be remembered by. Tokyo however has no single ‘vibe’, it’s instead a mishmash of various styles and times, places and beliefs that defies any simple description. There are two reasons for this really, one and most simple is just because Tokyo is so damned big. Another reason, the second, is because Tokyo has been destroyed and rebuilt twice in relatively recent times, once by a massive earthquake, and the other time by the bombs of World War 2. This has resulted in not much of the history and past of Tokyo to have remained over time and for the city and its inhabitants to have had to re-imagine and rebuild time after time. Add to that the influx of foreign influences and you’ve got a city with an identity crisis.

The result is a city where at one train station you’ll find yourself emerging into the glare of titan TV screens and huge crowds flowing between these glass towers, the noise deafening and the pace frantic. And yet at another train stop not even too far away you’ll find yourself emerging into the simple sunlit daylight, a few passerby walking along the sidewalk and a pleasant breeze in the air causing a rustling among the trees of a nearby garden. While this can be disorienting, it can also make for an extremely memorable and fun experience. No matter what you’re looking for, what kind of city or what kind of experience, there’s likely somewhere in Tokyo where your wishes will be fulfilled.

Me, I like the quieter districts. Or if not quiet, the more traditional. While I have plenty of interest in electronics, I didn’t come here to go shopping, and I’ve no interest really in ‘anime’, or Japanese cartoons, comics and the like. All of which are extremely popular here as well in other parts of the world I’m assured, although it’s not to my particular tastes. No, I came to Japan because I wanted to visit a culture different from my own, alien, and to explore their history and traditions. To immerse myself in something different than the European cultures I’m so familiar with. For example I’ve seen many of the most grand cathedral and church in the world, more Notre Dame than I can count, and yet till just recently I’d never before explored a shrine or temple.

But now I have, in Tokyo is where you’ll find among other more modest holy buildings, the Senso-ji Temple, a Buddhist temple in the heart of Tokyo which unlike the cathedral and church mentioned above, is in truth a series of buildings and shrines built and designed as one grand whole to appeal to every facet and personal belief of this religion. Or so it seems to me, an admitted outsider. The original buildings, as with most things in Tokyo, were destroyed a fair time ago but the recreation remains true to the original and it’s the people and their beliefs and traditions which matter here, and those remain untouched with the passing of time, war and cataclysm which has destroyed so much before. Which is not to say those buildings are unimpressive, they are anything but. Massive painted gateway holding up high these carefully crafted and intricately carves roof. The massive pagoda, a strange inconceivable tower reaching upwards into the sky, painted brightly and shimmering with golden trim and hand-painted patterns.  And amidst these huge, towering structures a range of smaller, equally skillfully crafted shrines and gardens each representing some other facet of the faith. All this to the smells of sweet incense that blows through the air and the sights and sounds of hundreds of followers of this belief following their rituals, bowing and praying… it can be overwhelming. Completely different, and yet in certain ways so alike, the giant stone Cathedrals of the western world!

Senso-ji however represents only one of many temples within this city and far from all the various faiths you’ll find here, Shinto for example is another great belief you’ll find common. But I write this not to debate faiths or compare religions, as fun as that is, but to describe the great city of Tokyo. Religion is only one of the many facets of the traditional ways within this city. Exploring some of the more historic districts would prove another. Near the Nippori train station remain a collection of buildings which have survived the passage of time, and to walk amidst them, to hear the locals chatter and to wander the nearby market streets and taste the foods being sold there is a joy unto itself and another experience unique to this part of the world. Small, tight streets crowded with the sights and smells of vendors selling their wares, people and bicycles crowding together to walk between the stalls. I’m not one to enjoy crowds, but things like that… it’s enjoyable to be a part of something even if I am painfully obviously just a passing traveller.

Tokyo is not unkind to travellers however. I’ve been to places that hated visitors and Tokyo is not among them thankfully. The people are people, and no matter where you go on this great globe of ours you’ll find the same types of people. But for the most part Tokyo citizens are a friendly lot, much moreso than you’d expect perhaps for a city this size. It’s surprising in a nice way to be approached by a man and asked if you have any questions, clearly he’s not a guide, but you ask your questions and that leads to idle chatter and you soon discover he simply wished to practice his english and you’d looked like you could use a few helpful words. Something I had happen to me twice. No, Tokyo’s greatest bane towards travellers is not the locals but the city itself and among other things weather. The city I say because exploring a city of this size is always a task not taken lightly, and the weather I mention because as a Canadian I find it ridiculously hot and muggy at times. Not too bad mind you, not like some places, and in Tokyo at least a drink is never far away in the form of the legion of vending machine that dot every street and corner of the city. Well maintained and stocked machines dispensing cool relief to sweaty tourists like myself and local alike. The things are incredible, one of my two favorite things about Tokyo. The other?

The gardens. The Japanese have a love of gardens and gardening in a sort of way you’ll not encounter anywhere else in the world, and Tokyo boasts a couple spectacular gardens and parks you’ll never forget. Crammed among the skyscrapers and condo you’ll find these gardens, usually walled and *always* with a history behind them. The Imperial Palace (Guests only allowed in twice a year and I’ve no intention of waiting around long enough to be in Tokyo during one of em!) is surrounded by gardens as well as any other royal structure, some open to the public others not. Many temples and shrines will have a small garden to walk around in. And then there are the few others which stand alone. My favorite of which is the amazing Korakuen Garden, located in the middle of a busy city with a theme park and coliseum nearby, you’d never guess that it would be such a calming and beautiful place to walk, so much so the honking of horns and screams of people riding the nearby roller coaster are simply forgotten. This particular park I enjoy because not only does it have a history (Signs marked ‘the __ shogun enjoyed sitting on this rock’ or ‘this monument was dedicated to __ shogun’s favorite eagle’ among others.) but the part itself is designed as a landscape in miniature, every crevice and stream representing part of a greater whole, and it all forms together into this spectacularly calming experience where one step is crossing miles and every tree a forest. A much needed oasis of tranquility and relaxation in Tokyo.

And now, once again, I find myself wondering what to type about next. The city is just so big, so vast and diverse that to focus on any one facet is to ignore a million others. I spend a paragraph talking about gardens and in so doing ignore the cities monuments to the future. The skyscrapers, built like giant glass cathedral which ascend toward the sky and leave your mind in wonder. The exhibition halls, the huge glass domes and the wonderful electronics you’ll find everywhere. And having typed that, I am once again reminded that Tokyo is a city of the future. I enjoy the remnants of the past, but it is the future the city sets its eyes upon. Not only does Tokyo seem to embrace other cultures and ideas, it takes those ideas and engulfs them, making them a part of itself and then setting itself to surpass the source from which those ideas came from. Paris has a giant tower? So does Tokyo, and it’s actually bigger in size… but here is also where I, personally, find flaw in Tokyo’s thinking as a city and I’ll use this tower as an example. The Eiffel tower is not simply a big metal radio tower, but it in many ways it is a symbol. It wasn’t just built to be the tallest, but it was designed to be a metallic work of art, you see this when you look closely at how it was built. The tower is a sort of french ideal, a wonder, that’s why not even in World War 2 could the axis bring themselves to destroy it. Building a bigger tower is impressive, yes, but it hasn’t the same effect nor the impact. Tokyo does it bigger, does it better likely, and yet somehow it’s still just not right. It’s the same with much of the ‘new’ Tokyo, and you’ll forgive me I hope if this seems harsh, but it’s shallow. That’s why I so enjoy delving into Tokyo’s past rather than face the future, glorious although it may be.

But that’s simply me, my personal opinion on the city and its peoples and ideals. As mentioned many a time, Tokyo is too big to really classify. Impossible to give a proper title to. And at the rate the world is advancing it’s only a matter of time till we find that Tokyo is the trendsetter and we, these other cities, copying it and creating our own little shallow copies of its glories. Whether or not this is a good or a bad thing I cannot say, but it is the future and not as far away as some might think. Tokyo is like a murky mirror into what every city could be given the time and people, a glimpse into the future. It is an Alpha-world-city, one of few in the world.

It is a city of the future.

(I’ll add links to pictures like I normally do when I’m home again, which could be awhile but who knows? Not me!)