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Head east for disorientation

Tokyo Tales Part One: View from the streets
Wed Mar 28 2007, 11:39
THE INQ HAS just touched down in the heart of modern Japan - Tokyo.

A quick train ride from Narita airport allows a quick view of some kind of oriental suburbia mixed with the odd rice paddy or some other small cultivation.

Shortly, the megatropolis steams into full view, but the actual scope of the city isn't visible until our 32nd floor hotel room and we're afforded the night's view.

Skyscraper upon skyscraper floods the neon-lit cityscape, with seemingly no boundary to the naked eye. A plethora of fifty-floor plus buildings haunt the landscape, edging as close to the harbour boundaries as their foundations will afford.

The mist and rain cling to the night and a quick walk into the locality presents bar after bar offering sake of every domination or some kind of raw fish. The streets are filled at any time of the day, with a constant barrage of human and automotive traffic, loud speakers from gigantic advertising bill-boards coupled with in-built 100-inch LCDs surrounding the street junction corners.

This is no modern London or scraper-filled square mile, this is Blade Runner.

During the day any degree of sanity is difficult to maintain. Shibuya is a prime example of the incredible hustle and bustle, coupled with audio and visual sensory overload, of central Tokyo.

Shibuya - stay clear if you're in a fragile mental state. A quick video is available here too.

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You're completely surrounded by multiple different exits to one junction which all in turn seem to lead to a similar junction. Each junction seems to have a Piccadilly Circus-esque LCD wall, but instead of just one corner being occupied with visual eye-candy, every corner is populated with animated advertising, complete with audio barrage.

It's almost overwhelming in the March cool air, but in the summer when Tokyo easily hits temperatures of over 30 degrees, it's easy to see how one could go completely mad with the intensity and allow oneself to mingle with the multitude of homeless among the Imperial Palace lawns.

Trying to navigate this area is impossible. The scattered maps, when not in Japanese, seem to offer no resemblance to the actual geographics of the area. Every road from one of the junctions leads to another maze of junctions and turnings. The Japanese don't use road names, nor do they seem to offer any type of sign, directions or local naming for the pedestrian other than the ever-looming mass of neon signs and ear-lobe smashing outdoor screen advertising - not to mention the salesmen perched upon stalls bellowing in your ears via megaphones as you pass by their shops.

If you lean into a back alley of market-stall traders or small shops, expect to be startled by the extreme length and multitude of outlets available. Endless street after street after street, as far as they eye can see, all geared towards taking your Yen, all complete with a throng of shoppers and bustling locals, are at your disposal.

Take a street map (if you can find one), take a GPS unit, take local maps gathered from the net, and hope for the best.

The streets are a maze, and when trying to travel to your chosen destination, the train is some shape or form is the most useful transit method available. But you have a seemingly massive choice, metro/underground, monorail, over-rail, this line, that line etc, all mixed together, all seemingly poorly sign posted and sparingly detailed at every station. It's a nightmare, but a little pointing from the ticket guards usually helps - though guessing what you actually have to pay for a multi-change (from service to service) ticket is something else entirely.

The stations and surrounding complexes are unbelievable huge. Tokyo station seems to span a shopping area larger than Heathrow put together, and the whole city seems to be inter-linked underground in an ever increasing number of below-floor levels and unwieldy maze of shopping, train stations and restaurants.

Don't expect much help from the locals either. The Japanese can generally write very good English, but they can generally not speak it, nor do they wish to try - they're incredibly shy and wish to never make a mistake in case they embarrass themselves.

But let's get to the point. We're here to check out the electronics, toys and oddities of Tokyo. More later in the week in INQ Tales from Tokyo Part II. µ

 

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