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...two travellers in search of the world's wildlife

15 November 2015

Pavement pounding

18 October 2015

Today we explored some Tokyo neighbourhoods. Many Tokyo neighbourhoods. And since we didn’t take a single metro until the very end of the day, our feet have basically been worn away to flat, leathery dead things. Or so it feels.

Getting a load of the feet at Roppongi

Getting a load of the feet at Roppongi


One invaluable resource in Japan for the weary explorer is… the drinks machine! Another thing that exists in the west, but is different in a whole bunch of ways over here. First off, the drinks are different. There aren’t many drink machines offering Coke in Japan, and almost never Diet Coke. There’s no 7UP or Sprite or any other familiar fizz. There is however a bewildering variety of chilled coffee drinks, and a number of local (and generally much less fizzy) soft drinks like the charmingly named Pocari Sweat. The other difference is just how ubiquitous they are! Drinks machines seem to pop up entirely at random, like mushrooms. It would be hard to take a ten minute walk anywhere in Japan without wandering past two or three drinks machines on random corners, or in the doorways of shops or car mechanics or offices, or simply standing in the middle of nowhere beside a small country road, the legs propped up with breeze blocks to keep the machine horizontal.

Let me tell you, I got seriously addicted to small cans of iced coffee.

Wandering drinks machines

Wandering drinks machines


Back in Tokyo, then, and a bunch of neighbourhoods. Our hotel is in an area called Shiodome, which is essentially 100% business-orientated; it is all concrete, glass and raised walkways, and in the evening it is dead except for people walking to and from our hotel. We found street level in the end and wandered west into Toranomon where we found a Buddhist temple hidden among the skyscrapers and a hundred people doing yoga on an artificial grass lawn outside a gigantic office/residential building.

Speaking of grass, what is it with Japanese phonetic spelling of English? Obviously we all know the stereotype Japanese pronounciation; they drink beer from a grass and have a picnic on the glass. But that’s all just pronunciation. So why is it when menus include a translation into English they actually say “Wine – by the grass”? They do. I’ve seen a bunch of examples. It’s weird.

From Toranomon we went on to Roppongi Hills, the much touted shiny new shopping district that puts Ginza in the shade. Er. Shrug. Another huge office/residential tower, surrounded by some more shiny but bland architecture and containing a handful of shops of the most exquisitely expensive named brands in the world. Think: Stella McCartney, Brietling, Versace, yawn. We wandered on. Our walk took us through a genuinely residential neighbourhood of small houses that I might quite like to live in, and then through the most important cemetary in Tokyo – Aoyama. This was a pleasant calm after the glass and concrete din.

Prada building, Omotesando

Prada building, Omotesando


Omotesando was our target, a more interesting shopping district (though still plagued with high-end global brands) but one where we didn’t linger long; I guess if you’re not actually shopping there’s little to detain you. Omotesando drifted into Harajuku, which is basically Camden Market in technicolour, a surging crowd of people and lots of shops selling the tackiest tack you could imagine. Japan does tacky VERY well, when it really tries.

And so, finally (and definitely one neighbourhood too many!) we walked downhill to Shibuya. This finally looked like a place I might like to stop and shop; some independents, less of the crazy bling, lots and lots of people but enough space to contain them, indie coffee shops too. But boy, were we knackered. We got on the metro – for the first time today – and it whisked us back across the city to our hotel. We ate near our hotel too, in one of the dozen or so almost empty restaurants that somehow survives in the Shiodome business wasteland.

Suitably odd couture, Omotesando

Suitably odd couture, Omotesando


It’s hard to know how much my impression of Tokyo is being formed by the way in which we explored today. It’s all concrete and glass, and unforgiving pavements. Perhaps Tokyo is not a city to be explored on foot and at random? Possibly it would pay back better with some detailed research and a metro trip out to one specific area to explore in depth. We might try that another day – I’m inclined to use Shibuya as an area for gift shopping on our last day, and there’s bound to be somewhere nice for lunch there too. So far there’s not been much to love.
Out of place

Out of place


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