iPhone alarm failure aside – we needed to be up and out by 5:50am to insure we made the Shinkansen. We made the foyer by 5:55am, still dark, and found the taxi waiting in the narrow street outside. It was -1˚C and this was our first taxi in Japan. Japanese taxis are strange vehicles. They’re almost enigmatic in the modern Japanese context. Usually Toyota Crowns or Nissan Cedrics, they have lacy, crocheted seat covers, antimacassars and wing mirrors on the far ends of the front fenders. They have suited, capped, white-shirted (with tie) and gloved drivers who doff their caps and bow low as they dart around to load your luggage into the boot. The rear doors open and close automatically and driver will open the front door if required. Our driver had no english but luckily responded enthusiastically to my ‘Shinkansen’ request.
We were delivered to the station after a ride through a dark and empty Kyoto and quickly found our way to the crowded platform. Unsurprisingly, the train was right on time and then left before we’d finished stowing our luggage. Then it was back to sleep and back to Tokyo in 3 short hours.
|Harajuku back streets|
It took a while to figure out where we would need to be to catch the train to the airport and then which tickets we would need, but eventually through a combination of drawing, miming and broken english/japanese, we got it sorted and found some lockers to leave our luggage in while we headed out into Tokyo for one last day. We accidentally went to Ginza first, largely because I said let’s go to Ginza, when I actually meant let’s go to Harajuku. Ginza was a quiet and mostly closed, given it was not yet 11am and we amused ourselves by roaming around the smaller side streets. We wheeled into a cafe on the main street and had two terrible coffees, an iced cocoa and three small cakes for about $40, while we realised that this was not where I meant. Twenty minutes on the subway remedied the situation and we got to Harajuku and were funnelled into an overflow exit with thousands of people heading toward a temple in a park. The crowd eventually flowed through and onto the main drag where we quickly headed for Harajuku Street, off the Chanel/Bulgari/Ralph Lauren avenue and into the funky back streets with the retro and vintage clothes, the young designer stores, the skate shops, hat shops and even a shop filled with only Hawaiian stuff, naturally called Alohaha.
|Banksy’s in a Harajuku Store|
These streets kept us amused and intrigued and amazed for hours. We had lunch at an Italian restaurant – all pasta and chopsticks, then cruised our way back up towards the station. We stopped a couple of times – once for a Vivienne Westwood only vintage store; once for a dessert crepe – but eventually wound up back at the subway and heading back to the Tokyo Station and then on to Narita Airport. Our flight left at 9:20pm, so we had time for another quick bite, a small duty-free liquor purchase and a slight change of clothes. We were tired by the time we sat on the plane and we all of us had a reasonable sleep before we arrived in Cairns at 5:45am.
Our flight to Brisbane wasn’t till 10:15am, so sleeping in the terminal seemed reasonable.
My thoughts on this trip:
I never expected to enjoy Tokyo anywhere near as much as I did. I don’t think even Pip expected it to be so interesting and engaging. The diversity we experienced over the time we were there – the number of times we were literally stopped in our tracks with amazement – the weird and I think futuristic mix of modern and ancient; of retro and space-aged; of eastern and western – made this a memorable trip and probably more a taster than a tour.
It’s hard not to compare Tokyo with the city I live in, Brisbane. Apart from the obvious difference 33 million people make, Tokyo is a cleaner city despite having literally no bins on the street. Tokyo’s citizens behave better in public – sure there must be a seedier underside, but it isn’t on display like in Brisbane. I was thinking Tokyo was more expensive than Brisbane and that may be true about some areas and some things – parking and public transport are cheaper in Tokyo and the bulk of restaurants are about the same. Public Transport is amazing in Tokyo, but this IS about the numbers of people and the size of the city. People are more respectful of others and others’ property in Tokyo – of the millions of parked bicycles we saw only a handful were locked; beautiful plants in parks weren’t trashed or stolen; restaurants just put a cover over their outside furniture and signs when they close; people pick things up off the street. Maybe they know that if they don’t play the community game it would all be chaos.
I know there’s an awful lot of people working for minimum wage and that minimum wage is really minimal – but there are no self-service checkouts and stores have staff to serve you and there are people to stop the traffic for buses to pull in and out and information staff everywhere and I understand that Japan has close to full employment.
We will definitely go back to Tokyo – hell, I could live there if I had half an excuse – but I would like to have a bit more understanding of the language. There’s also the rest of Japan to contemplate – our brief time in Kyoto felt similar to Tokyo and there a number of mega cities in Japan that I guess are similar in feel – maybe some places in the country would be nice to visit.