Tokyo!

Posted on January 02, 2013 by Fraser Doherty

  

Tsukiji fish market, the largest in the world.

When I was about twelve years old, our geography teacher taught us about Japan: high speed trains, vending machines that sell girls' used panties, sushi, robots.  Ever since then, Japan has been the number one place in the whole world i've wanted to visit.  And, finally, more than ten years after my first tentative mouthful of raw fish, I got to go there; for the launch of the Japanese edition of my book, SuperBusiness.

When we did our school project on Japan, I was fascinated by how Japanese people live; in tiny houses, with sliding doors and beds on the floor.  I since learned that they eat pickle for breakfast, have toilets with more functions than my microwave oven and that they're extremely polite (they love a good bow!).  So, I wanted to stay with some genuine Japanese people in their home for the week I was in Tokyo.

 

Through Airbnb, I found the cutest couple to stay with in Ikkbukuro; they were unbelievably kind and polite and they made me amazing Japanese breakfast every day.  My hosts even burst into my room on the first afternoon I was there, holding a tray with a teapot and biscuits: "Engrish tea time!  Engrish tea time!  Engrish people must dlink tea. 3pm. Evely day!"...  adorable!!

I guess one of the things that is appealing about Japan is the way in which the ultra-modern and the ancient coexist simultaneously, with people visiting temples and shrines to make wishes slap bang in the middle of the biggest metropolis in the world; a city home to more than 35 million people (about five times the size of London!).

  

At the Sensoji Temple, we were lucky enough to get to see a traditional Japanese wedding happening.

Apparently, Japan is home to the biggest fashion industry in the world and a great place to wander around and see people working some pretty wacky styles is Harujuku.  Does my bum look big in this fluorescent tutu?

Aside from the bright lights of Shinjuku, my favourite area for drinking was Golden Gai.  Here, you can hop around tiny tiny tiny bars (they literally only fit about five, sometimes only two, patrons!), all with their own unique decor and quirky regulars.

The busiest place on Earth; Shibuya Crossing.  Close to a million people cross the road here every day.

I knew that Tokyo was going to be weird.  That's why it appealed to me in the first place - I love going to places where I can feel like a complete alien. 

Japan, like all of the 'old world' is doing a lot of soul-searching these days - it's a place that for a long time was seen as 'the future', but now pales in comparison to the ever more powerful and modern Chinese next door.  And, after the nuclear disaster last year, a lot of people have begun questioning the country's salaryman culture.  Japan is consistently ranked the least entrepreneurial country in the world - most people work for massive corporations - but things are starting to change, which is perhaps why there is a demand for books like mine.

 

A protest against nuclear power.

Japanese people have a tendency to compartmentalize their lives; they work like crazy and wear a black suit/white shirt during the day, then drink and sing their worries away at karaoke bars at night.  There's no space for privacy - most people my age still live with their parents and if they meet someone special, they hire a room by the hour at a 'love hotel'.  London, or any big city, can be a lonely place. But I found that Tokyo was a place where you could almost live an entire life with very little interaction with other humans - even though they are all around you.  I ate in an automated restaurant, entered my orders into a machine at a bar and walked past the famous pod hotels.

  

A self-serve-all-you-can-drink-for-1000-yen (£10) bar.  I may have discovered a large Scottish-person-shaped-hole in their business plan.

In Akihabara, the hub of 'geek culture', I saw thousands of young men gambling on pachinko machines, playing games at the Sega arcade and browsing anime comics and manga books.  We even braved one of the many weird 'maid cafes', where Japanese girls dressed as French maids serve you drinks and call you 'master'.  They're quite a mainstream phenomenon and actually pretty harmless - at least for the tourists who just find the whole experience bizarre - I have a feeling the local boys enjoy it a bit too much.

I made it to a 'cat cafe'; most people don't have space in their tiny homes for pets, so they pay about £10 for an hour with some cuties and a cup of coffee.

Tokyo was easily one of the most fascinating, bizarre, fun and even welcoming places I have ever been to - Japanese people are so clean and polite and (usefully for someone as clumsy as myself), you can literally leave your possessions lying around when you're in a bar or a restaurant - there is no crime.

I absolutely can't wait to go back to Tokyo in a few months for a speaking tour of universities - I will be getting to visit some cities other than Tokyo and also hopefully some of the Japanese countryside, which i've always wanted to see.

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