We knew we were in a modern and advanced society the moment we arrived at the port in Osaka. The whole border control and customs clearing was such a pleasant and civilised experience, one which I don’t think I’ve come across before in any other country. Polite to the point you feel they are friendly and yet very thorough, when we had to take off our shoes the customs officers seemed almost apologetic. This was new and we knew we were in for a very different experience.
We caught the metro to Osaka and to the AirBnB apartment we had rented. Getting a grip on the metro is a must in Japan, so there can be no shying away, best get straight in and get on with it. It’s not the language barrier, or lack of reading Japanese ‘Kanji’ that makes it hard and to some extent we were conditioned after China. Metro maps are available but here is the snag, 3 different companies run the metro lines and each produce a map focusing on their lines ie not all maps show all connections. Confused? We were but after a few days we got the hang of it.
First impression of Osaka was that it looks like a toy town, everything is quaint right down to the little cars, alley-ways and houses.
It was great but we wanted to hit Tokyo first so we quickly moved on catching the bullet train the next day.
Tokyo: Our apartment is in Ueno, a very central and quite traditional area of the city, but in a quiet side street. On the first morning we were woken by voices and music that sounded like a festival. It was exactly that, the annual Kanda Matsuri festival where after a few cups of sake, shrines are carried through the streets on the shoulders of men and a few women of all ages. I can only guess it ends with some more sake at the end of the day.
Tokyo is clean – not clean like other cities – I mean clean and sparkling with everything including the tops of the subway trains, looking polished and totally dust free. The taxis and cars are all waxed, all things are in order without any rush or traffic jams, in fact very little traffic for a city of 22 mil.
It’s efficient, clean and in your face with the big skyscrapers and neon signs. But get into the lane-ways that criss-cross all the main roads and you are surrounded by little restaurants, bars and funny kiosks selling all kinds of strange and tempting food snacks.
Like most big cities Tokyo is made up of areas, each with their own character, but all retain the same relationship between the big avenues and the smaller lane-ways.
Ueno, where we are staying is close to the park and also to Ameyoko, a network of lane-way markets where you can pick up anything from clothes to food and eat at casual Izakaya pubs and restaurants.
Walking the other direction we get to Akiba (Akihabara, the electric city) where anything electrical is on sale, both new and old. Akiba is also home to Anime and Manga (the Japanese caricatures of hot teenage warriors) and computer geeks and just geeks walk out of shops with handfuls of their new booty, be it “e” gadgets or Anime figurines. Many of Tokyo’s maid cafes are also located here.
We had a day of rain, supposedly like Sydney it rains in the warmer months, but we went for a walk in Harajuku, another area of Tokyo that I can only describe as a candy-lane of teenage kitsch. If you are a girl between the ages of 14 to 25 you are in heaven, well I bought my new shoes there, so that says it all.
Ginza, in my books, outdoes all the big cities I have visited including Fifth Avenue in New York with buildings, shops and brand names which we could never afford.
Asakusa which is not far from Ueno, is another delight with its old temple and lane-way after lane-way packed with restaurants and alfresco seating.
On the surface Tokyo is calm and seems to have no stress, and yet if you ask us to describe it (well at this early stage of our visit) I would say it’s like a city on steroids.