Friday, May 6, 2011

東京 Part 1-A Massive Metropolis

As I said before, Karl and I were supposed to be in Hong Kong during Golden Week this year.  We cancelled that trip when the earthquake happened as we thought going home to visit family and friends to reassure them of our safety was a more prudent way to spend out time and money.  We enjoyed our visit home very much. 

We didn't have anything definite planned for our time off during the Golden Week holidays until my friend Yuma called me up a few weeks ago.  (He and I were in the music department at UWS together.  He graduated just ahead of me with a degree in composition.)  Yuma is from the Fukui area of Japan, but lives in 東京 (Tokyo) where he is a musical artist and record producer for the recording label IRMA.  (If you like dance music, check out his music on iTunes!)

After having been in Japan for close to ten months, we finally made plans to go spend time with Yuma, explore Tokyo and meet his parents who were visiting Tokyo for the holidays. 

For those of you who aren’t familiar with Tokyo, it is enormous.  I have been to many famous big cities: New York, Chicago, Beijing, Shanghai, Rome, etc.  But all of them are dwarfed by the tremendous scale of this metropolis.  When we went home to visit over spring break we flew into Minneapolis and St. Paul.  I was struck by how tiny it looked after flying out of Tokyo.

We live in Ogawa Machi, which is in Saitama-the prefecture exactly north of Tokyo prefecture and city.  (A prefecture is basically like a state or a county.)  Tokyo is so big that our entire prefecture is considered to be a suburb.  It takes us only an hour to get to Tokyo by train.  That brings us to the Ikebukuro district of Tokyo.  Depending on where you are going in Tokyo, it can take hours or minutes to get there. 

Most people travel by train, bus or subway.  I was impressed at how few vehicles were actually on the roads.  Traffic seemed to be running very smoothly.  It is typical for people to ride their bicycle or walk to the nearest train or subway station or bus stop and continue on their way from there.  I could not imagine the madness if more people were to drive their own vehicles in that city. 

Another thing that was very interesting to me was just how organized and smooth everything ran.  That city runs like a well-oiled machine.  The infrastructure is absolutely incredible-because is has to be.  In some places, highways are stacked on top of each other in layers.  Train and subway stations are intricate webs of dozens of different lines converging at the same point.  Tokyo Station (the biggest station) was under construction during our visit, but remarkably, this had little or no effect on the constant stream of people going about their business.

We met Yuma close to where he lives in Tokyo, near 渋谷 (Shibuya) station.  If you have ever seen a picture of Tokyo, there is a very large chance that it was of the famous Shibuya crossing.  It is located right outside of Shibuya station.  The crossing fills with hundreds of people every minute or so and traffic from all directions stops to let the people cross in any direction without having to wait more than once.  There are street musicians, at least six jumbo-trons broadcasting advertisements, signs everywhere, workers handing out flyers, people waiting to rendezvous…The hustle and bustle is really something to behold. 

We waited for Yuma by a famous dog statue just outside Shibuya station.  Yuma told us the story after he met up with us.  Fascinating story.

When Yuma showed up, we ate lunch before going to our hotel to drop off our stuff.  (Yuma found us an incredible deal-$60 for one night in the heart of Tokyo.  We were able to get this deal because of the earthquake and the drastic decrease of tourism in Japan currently.) After that, Yuma got his tour guide on and showed us around Tokyo. 

The first stop was a temple and a shrine...

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