TOKYO, Japan – The most modern city in the world is also very close to its traditions and ancestral values. Here are my impressions of Tokyo on my first visit.
It also is a – or another – city that has had to suffer the unspeakable horror of seeing everything it’s had built being completely destroyed by the enemy during WWII. And, like Berlin, Tokyo was able to recover from this horrible circumstance with panache, taking the opportunity to create spaces, infrastructure and life for its inhabitants that is unparalleled. One man’s sorrow is another man’s joy.
My Impressions of Tokyo: Discipline, respect and conformity
Tokyo is one of the most populated cities in the world. However it doesn’t feel crowded. In the subway, people are disciplined, do not push or shove, don’t step on each other’s the feet. On the street, motorists respect road signs, passersby walk their separate ways and show respect all around.
All salary workers are dressed alike: white shirt, gray pants, dress shoes.
All go to work at the same time, and almost all the same way: public transit.
And all are out of the office at the same time.
Peak hour could be hell, in this city where the value of an apartment has already reached 100 million yen per square meter during the Japanese bubble in the 1990s. Many workers must live in suburban neighborhoods. But everything is in order. And clean. Tokyo is a perfectly clean city.
So clean, in fact, that it is forbidden to smoke while walking. One must stop near an ashtray, grill your cigarette and keep going.
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The famous capsule hotels, where one sleeps in a super-modern coffin-style box, are unique in the world.
The Akihabara district is a mecca for global electronics. If you can’t find it in Akihabara, it probably doesn’t exist. Sony, Nintendo, Nikon, Canon and other giant electronics companies all hail from Japan.
The Shibuya district is home of the busiest crosswalk on the planet. And to see the hundreds of people cross this intersection triangle is a spectacle in itself.
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It’s also in Shibuya that Japanese “fashion” is the most obvious. Followers of Lolita fashions, all forms of kei and cosplay amateurs gather on weekends in Harajuku and Yoyogi park.
My Impressions of Tokyo: Culinary Delights
And in my humble opinion, the place in the world where culinary tradition is the most diverse, driven, innovative, daring and interesting is Japan.
In Tokyo, you can go to a 7-Eleven and buy a sweet seaweed snack; a dried and salted squid; sandwiches with the crusts cut off; a fresh bento with a superb piece of smoked fish, some tempura, a bowl of rice and fried zucchini flowers; a ball of rice with a seasoned protein hidden inside; a cup of soup and boiling water; excellent fried chicken, fish, pork, onions…
You can visit the largest fish market in the world, Tsukiji. This market is hell for Greenpeace members. All the seafood and fish that’s considered endangered, rare, illegal in many countries, banned in others, etc.: you can find it at Tsukiji. And this is where most of the fish that is found in high-end restaurants around the world is ordered from.
You can spend ten minutes and swallow a great ramen pork soup with local office workers.
You can be drawn into an extraordinary sensory experience at a sushi restaurant. And there are top-end sushi restaurants – Sukiyabashi Jiro, Sushi Saito, Sushi Mizutani, etc. – and a surprising list of restaurants that offer a diverse experience and quality at reasonable prices – Fukuzushi, Sushi Dai, and dozens of others.
At Fukuzushi, although prices are very reasonable, some of their daily specials can be truly exotic. For example, cod brains. They’re absolutely delicious, creamy, and mineral, with a light and a subtle swampy aftertaste.
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But Japanese food in general has much more to offer. Much more, in fact, that is possible to list here. However the Japanese obsession with animal entrails is a subject in itself.
My favorite Japanese institution is the izakaya, little pubs that serve large amounts of beer – Asahi, Kirin, Suntory or my favourite, the hoppy Premium Malt’s – shochu or sake. And they grill all parts of virtually all animals on charcoal.
Beef liver? Check. Cow stomach? Check. Sheep kidneys? Check. Pig intestines? Check. Chicken gizzards? Check. Horse anus? Check!