Saturday, July 30, 2011

Kitsch and Culture in Tokyo, Japan

I was watching a video on youtube the other day in which some British kids decided to document their visit to the US by going to WalMart. They showed processed lunchmeat which already had cheese in it, iced tea in what they called gasoline bottles, and rifles. What a nice video of America. Yes, those things exist, and yes they're gross, or violent, or in the case of the iced tea, totally normal in my opinion. But it's kind of mean to show that and not the beautiful things you can see in America, or the great food that can be found in gardens and at farmers markets. Why do I write the aforementioned in a Tokyo blog post, well, because Tokyo is kitschy, which I personally think is excellent, but it's not really a nice word, and I also hope to show the beauty beyond the kitsch.

We arrived in Tokyo at a very modern airport with a Japan Rail Pass, which meant we had unlimited free rides on any Japan Rail train for 2 of the 2.5 weeks we were in Japan. Excellent and simple. Or not. The first thing we had to do was find which, of the 5 train companies that go into Tokyo from the airport, we could take... Tokyo, and Japan have very thorough transit systems, but unfortunately, they're all run by different companies, so navigating is difficult... Unless you have a transit debit card (Suica), which we quickly acquired and was extremely useful.

Tokyo Transit Map
We found our way to our very modern ryokan/hostel, which is were the awesomeness begins! It was something in between, because we had tatami mat floors, fold out futons for beds, and shared bathrooms. We think it was also the most expensive place per square foot. Vince could touch both sides of the walls with his arms outstreched, but it was also one of my favorite places. It was eensy, but infinately efficient. Everything had a perfect place. It was designed so well that our bags fit in the cubbies and were easily accessable, there were shelves formiscellaneousstuff, a sliding door for access to the shelves, or inversely for protection in the case of an earthquake. The shower had a soundproof door so as not to disturb the neighbors. The entire place was clean as a whistle, and the kitchen was organized to perfection. I was instantly enamoured.

Ryokan tatami mat floors and fold out bed

A mini-lift for the bags

We spent our first full day on a whilrwind trip around central Tokyo with an excellent tourguide, Jason, who worked with Vince for a number of years. Our first stop was Shibuya, the fashion center of Tokyo, which also boasts the most traversed crosswalk in the world.

Shibuya fashion that I later found out was probably advert for an exotic dance bar

We had an excellent time observing the very fashionable inhabitants, checking out interesting architecture, and visiting a trendy farmers market where I caressed the pretty vegetable and smelled the fruits with glee. We also visited a couple of malls, which, in addition to many floors of clothes, have food halls in the basement, with french macarons, petit chou, and many highly decorated Japanese sweets.

We also stopped by the local park to see the dancing elvises, the mime, really cute eensy dogs, and locals congregating to do everything from frisbee twirling to tai chi. Kitschy? Yes! Awesome? Yes! Like nothing we've seen in the world thus far.

There's so much to see in Tokyo, we spent over a week there on either end of our Japanese adventure, and still we didn't see everything.

One excellent day was spent visiting the waterfront. Which has a beautiful skyline with many modern lovely buildings and open spaces, a huge ferris wheel, a mall designed to resemble Venice, and the Fuji TV building, a sight in itself, with excellent views from the observotory. We ran into a cat 'brothel' where you can pay per half hour to hang out with cats, and Vince found the Sega arcade to visit. Unfortunately, it was the one day in our entire trip that our camera battery wasn't charged so you'll have to take my word for it.

We also visited 'Electric City' or Akihabara, home of Manga and multi story buildings full of any and every -thing electronic. Vince had a great time checking out all the new toys, I found a bit of cell phone bling, then found a few nearby cafes. We visited a couple of 'only in Tokyo' places there too, the first of which was a maid cafe, which was advertised as having ladies dressed as french maids who could behave nicely or decidedly naughtily. It was a bit of a disapointment, and a quick visit as we weren't allowed to take photos, and it seemed to be the local haunt of creepy men. The second was the excellent Gundam manga cafe, where I had blood orange sorbet and Vince had electric blue peach ice cream.

Building art in Electric City

Gundam Cafe

Electric green soda at maid cafe

Now for the not-so-kitschy.

We spent a day visiting 'Old Tokyo' with beautiful temples, incense, gardens, and shopping alleys lined with paper lanterns.

Even in old Tokyo there is some strange stuff

Ran into a jazz band marching though neighborhood streets. And an excellent folk/bluegrass band later that day downtown.

Culture day was spent at the Mot Museum of Contemporary Art where we saw an excellent exhibit by Kohei Nawa called synthesis, where he uses many mediums to express the concept of the 'Cell'.  We couldn't take any photos of the exhibit sadly.

Then had a Shabu Shabu dinner where a lovely and kind kimono clad lady showed us how to cook and eat the Japanese version of fondue, where you dip meet and vegetables in decidedly healthier broth for cooking, then excellent soy or sesame dip before devouring. It was such a great meal, excellent food and ambience. Expensive, but worth every penny.

Tokyo is the city that has it all! Kitsch, culture, great museums, excellent food, old school, and new world pleasures, all in an efficient little package!

Efficient Japan: you can lock your umbrella outside of the hotel or museum

Kitsch Japan: Choose your eyelashes at the counter

Efficient Japan: Park 2 cars in one spot

The back seat turns into a backrest

Photo challenge!

You can see the rest of the photos here (map)

View Japan - Tokyo in a larger map


  1. Hi~ ㅠ.ㅠ The airline Just passed the Seoul Korea.. Hopefully, you guys will travel other time. :)

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