Will’s Tokyo Hot Spots

In the minds of most foreigners Japan has a dual identity. The cultural antiquity of Kyoto is crossed with the hustle and bustle of the neon-filled downtown Tokyo. I am currently living in Saitama Prefecture, the prefecture north of Tokyo. In this blog I will share a bit of my perspective on some of Tokyo’s more popular spots that I have recently visited.

First of all, Tokyo is not pronounced ‘toe-key-yo’ as most think. It is something more like the ‘to’ from potato with an elongated ‘o’ sound, coupled with what sounds like ‘quo’ but with a k instead of a q, once again followed by an elongated ‘o’ sound. The kanji (symbolic characters) for Tokyo (東京) literally mean ‘East Capital’, for it Tokyo is indeed the capital of Japan situated in the East.

A few of the spots which I will briefly highlight are as follows:

Shinjuku (新宿)
Most definitely no description of Tokyo is complete without mentioned Shinjuku. In my eyes it is the hub of Tokyo where a lot of the action happens. It is home to the world’s busiest train station through which three million people commute everyday. There are many electronic and department stores, hotels and governmental buildings. Shinjuku is also notorious for its skyscrapers.

Shibuya (渋谷)
Shibuya is somewhat similar to Shinjuku although the central vibe is definitely one of youth, fashion and entertainment. Shibuya crossing is fairly famous and a great spot for ‘人物見学’ (jinbutsu kengaku, ‘people watching’). Shibuya railway station is also immensely busy.

Roppongi (六本木)
Roppongi is famous for it’s vibrant nightlife scene and popularity with the foreign (particularly expatriate) community. Many foreign-style pubs and restaurants line its streets. A few nights ago I went and visited a Scottish pub and can definitely attest to the truth of Roppongi’s reputation in these matters. In addition there are also many hostess bars and other somewhat shady establishments apparently owned by Yakuza (Japanese mafia).

Harajuku (原宿)
This interesting places lies between Shibuya and Shinjuku. Recently it has been popularized in the West by Gwen Stefani due to it being a fashion-culture centre. Particularly on Sundays you can see some rad fashion on display by many Japanese teens, such as Gothic Lolita (Gothic kids outfits?) and visual kei (crazy-rock-style). Primarily when one thinks of Harajuku they think of Takeshita-dori which is like a long shopping arcade lined with shops for the aforementioned styles. Coming from Harajuku station, behind Takeshita-dori one will find Omotesando which is filled with shops for upmarket fashion (i.e. Louis Vuitton, etc.).

Akihabara (秋葉原)
Man, is this place interesting. Electronics is the speciality of Aikihabara, I would say that it is the electronics capital of the world. Around the station are many large department stores (such as Yodobashi Camera) but you can find even better prices on items a little further away at duty-free independently run joints. Akiba (as it is frequently shortened to) is also interesting because of its otaku culture. In simple terms, you can find the most outrageous fans of animé and video games living in their own world within Akihabara. Around the station amateur bands often play animé theme songs to which akiba-kei (otaku who frequent Akiba) will (to be blunt) make a mockery of themselves dancing crazily to the Japanese pop music. Last time I was in Akiba I saw guys in their mid-twenties dressed in maid outfits doing this. Culture shock, to say the least.

Asakusa (浅草)
Asakusa is home to a large number of Buddhist temples and some Shinto shrines. In particular there is the famous Sensoji temple. It you are in Tokyo and after a little glimpse of Japan’s more traditional culture then I would recommend Asakusa. In front of Sensoji temple are many traditional-esque stores.

I have only touched upon a few of Tokyo’s many interesting locations. Some others that I may perhaps write about in the future are Odaiba, Ginza and Ueno. On Wednesday (in three days) I will be going on an excursion with four other guys from my class at school to Tokyo, hitting up Shibuya and Asakusa.

If you have any questions or comments please feel free to drop me a line beneath this post. =)

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