Blinking Lights of Tokyo (Part One)

My blog is my time machine. It transports me back to past moments of my choice. Come travel with me. We’re going to Tokyo today.

At night, the streets of Tokyo were full of blinking lights. A cacophony of sounds.

Shop workers stood at the doorsteps with megaphones and shouted away their best offers, non-stop, to passers-by. Inside the shops, the lighting was blinding. Our eyes and ears told us to leave before we could find what we were looking for.

We passed more small shops selling what might’ve been sweet pastries. We went into a convienience store and bought seaweed triangles but didn’t know if we should peel them, heat them, or just bite in. We said hi to the cashier – and two young men in samurai-styled painters’ work clothes laughed at us. Later, we remembered that probably sounded like yes in Japanese.

Looking for somewhere to eat, we stumbled upon a small, hidden back alley, in the bustling metropole. It might not come as a surprise when I tell you that the whole place looked like it was from Hubby’s favorite film, Blade Runner. The alley was steamy with delicious smells drifting out of the tiny wooden shacks; restaurants; the smells mingling competitively. The tiny eateries looked exotic. Flags of writing hung outside, as signs. We didn’t dare go in.

We found a nice sushi place with locals and a sushi conveyor belt. In front of each seat there was a tap for hot water, which you could mix with the green tea powder provided. I didn’t know how to use it, or that I was supposed to use it, until a grey-haired Japanese gentleman eating his dinner alone next to us showed us how. I felt so baffled that I even dropped my chopsticks to the floor.

Later, we ate at another restaurant and hubby is convinced to this day that it was offal on BBQ sticks. I thought it was good. We found some overwhelmingly large, but truly delicious waffles with sweet whipped cream and strawberries galore at a park while watching the ubiquitous cartoon of a boy on fire. We were outdoors but, bizarrely, so was the cartoon.

Inside an electronic store at Akihabara, the cacophony continued on the PA system, commercial after commercial. Without understanding the language, we knew what they were saying. Buy this at only 99,99!

Somewhere, we stepped into a gaming place. Men were sitting there, eyes transfixed to their games. Dings, dongs, cheering and thundering sounds. The sound of coins falling out of a machine resonated from somewhere in the room.

I stopped on the street for a moment and it didn’t take long before a blinking minivan with loud music appeared and I stared, too slow to take a good photo. It had an outrageous pink color and was decorated with J-Pop idols.

I loved feeling clueless for a while, since this was only a trip and not my so-called real life. Please, baffle me some more, Tokyo! Bring it on!

I wonder if Japanese people from other towns feel at all like this when they visit Tokyo?

A few years after this trip, I did a very short Japanese cultural course just for fun. The course actually just managed to highlight how alien of a culture it is to me. I’d like to travel to the countryside one day – maybe visit Kyoto. Who knows where my time machine will take me in the future.

Part Two coming up in my next post – stay tuned!

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37 responses to “Blinking Lights of Tokyo (Part One)

  1. Lovely travelling with you to a place I really doubt I’ll ever see for myself. I don’t like to be baffled, I loooove to understand 🙂 But yes, that’s why there are courses, and my favourite – experiences.

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    • Sounds like you know how to prepare it well! We don’t eat that in our daily lives so it felt a bit exotic. Also the fact of simply not knowing what it was that we ate. But being surprised is part of the travel experience and part of what we look for when traveling. Why go somewhere that’s exactly like home? So it was good that we didn’t know!

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  2. You certainly write a travel post in an entertaining way. Perfectly capturing the confusion and disorientation, and sort of culture shock one feels when travelling to Japan the first time! It brought back many of my memories for me! Akiba, the electronic Japanese “toilet” , and negotiating the Ginza and train system. When you plan to go next time, stay for a night or two in Narita itself, ( not at the airport at the village itself), as there is a large temple complex there worth seeing and you will also get a glimpse of traditional Japan the way it used to be! I plan to go to Kyoto next time too!

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  3. My hometown is in Shikoku (smallest of the 4 main islands) and like most working people, I live in Tokyo now because of job opportunities. Yes, Tokyo is most certainly different from the rest of Japan…

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    • Very interesting to hear your opinion! I was hoping to get feedback from someone local 🙂 I think that if we had known someone there, we would’ve gotten even more out of the experience, especially foodwise. But there was also a certain charm to navigating it all by ourselves, though not knowing the alphabet makes you feel a bit blind. It makes me think of foreigners I’ve known who have visited my home country, Finland, and since the language isn’t related to any major language, they have had a hard time guessing which food is which in the supermarket. To me, it’s obvious that our milk carton is milk, but to someone else, it could be juice or yoghurt based just on the look of the packaging. Some find not knowing distressing, and I admit that it might be that in the ling run. But for a short trip somewhere new, I like experiencing something new.

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  4. The culture is what makes the trip to a country a time machine, because it is like setting foot on an alien ground. What is sad nowadays is that cultures are starting to merge into one global modern society and slowly we see exotic cultures disappearing. You go to a capital city of a country and the building skyline looks almost identical. I hope each country preserves their unique cultures so that we all can get a chance to experience this amazing time machine. Thanks for your share, it was a good read! 🙂

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    • Thanks for taking the time to read it and leave such a lovely comment. I agree with you. Globalized products and brands just add to that deja-vu feeling when Starbucks cafes and Zara stores replace the local ones (I’m a customer of both, so nothing personal! Just saying!)

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  5. Great one, I can totally relate! Tokyo was like a trip in the 4th dimension to me. I loved it so much, to feel totally alien to all my surroundings. And I adored the food 🙂 THanks so much for the ride!

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  6. Great post! Haven’t been to Japan, but Kyoto is definitely on my list. When we visited Seoul a couple of years ago, it was a bit like what you describe here. I was surprised that the majority of people there did not really speak any other languages. But a big part of the fun, to me anyway, is experiencing something completely different.
    Great photos and I am looking forward to part two!

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  7. Lovely portrait of time machine and Tokyo. I want to visit too – my husband and children has been there, but I did not have the possibility at the time. I also think it is a pity many places lose their soul in this globalised world. It is an important project to protect the diversitiy and soul of countries and places.

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  10. Japan is a very interesting place. Your post brings back my own memory of the place as well. I would say I love every bit of the it. The culture is do different and unique. People are so polite. I recalled that I asked hotel service to help setup or solve in room Wi-Fi. The person came to work on the computer. He spent 10 minutes or more in position that he had to lower down at the desk level but refute to sit on a chair offered to him.

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