Pay It Forward-Tokyo, Japan
Japan has long been the highly romanticized land of neon lights, anime, strange food, crowded streets and impressive technology. It's a country that the world turns to for daily doses of "weirdness" and oddities. Speaking generally, as foreigners, we view Japan more as a fetish than a culture.
During our recent trip to Japan we sought to challenge those views and get a glimpse of the "real" Japan.
We landed well after the last train on the Kesei line had departed. Narita was empty save for the other passengers on our plane, a few immigration and customs officers and a handful of staff doing their rounds-cleaning or working the patrol desk. We headed over to a kiosk and purchased 7 day sim cards for 2,400¥ ($21 USD) and took the long walk to the cab stand in the adjacent terminal. The midnight air was cold but welcome after being in the recycled air hull of an airplane and airport for so long. The cab driver informed us of the cost, a steep 22,000¥ ($200 USD), and we reluctantly agreed and began the 50 minute trip from the airport to our Air BnB. At half past midnight the roads were relatively empty but the ride provided us a beautiful introduction to the city in the form of an impressive nighttime panorama. We got out. Paid the driver. Walked to the room and fell asleep.
To be completely honest, Tokyo wasn't everything that I expected. Let me explain. I, too, was one of the people who fetishized Tokyo. I got off the train expecting this mecca of technology- half expecting to see mag-lev cars, a robot or two, maybe Cell and Gohan would go at it in the middle of the crosswalk for a short lived battle before taking off back to the other realm- realistically expecting to just see buttons that worked when you were at the cross walk. Essentially, I had set myself up for failure. What I got instead was just a regular business district in a regular city- and I think that's where the real beauty in Tokyo Central lies. Tokyo is just like every other city in the world. There are tall buildings, a few expensive eateries sprinkled throughout, people going about their normal days and then some cool looking old buildings here and there. It isn't at all like the city that we think it is...at least on the surface.
In my opinion, the Tokyo that we speak about in casual conversation happens outside of the city center and in the surrounding districts: Shibuya, Harajuku, Ikebukuro, Roppongi, Akihabara. Tokyo challenges you to venture outside of the familiarity of the city and explore its outskirts. Get on a train. Get off on the wrong stop, walk a few blocks and venture down a few streets before you find what you didn't know you were looking for. When I became comfortable with getting lost in Tokyo is when I became comfortable being in the city itself. Tokyo is full of surprises and it will only reveal itself to you when you're willing to let it surprise you.