Third stop – The future – Tokyo
Like restless ants, the inhabitants of Tokyo shift around, because in the future there’s no time to waste. They move by walking quickly and organised, with neither the rain nor the wind to stop them. Rivers of people flow through the streets and vanish in the privacy of the hidden houses. In this city I felt like an external observer of the evolution of time: everything that surrounded me moved without me being involved.
Surely, the place where this concept is best witnessed is the Tsukiji Fish Market. A giant parallel reality that is activated in the early hours of the day when the rest of Tokyo is either deeply asleep or busy sipping the last drink after a night out. This market seems like a city inside the city. In the thousand streets of this part of town, small coloured forklifts speed up as if they were racing cars. The pilots are so immersed in their own world that they don’t even pay attention to the people crossing the road. The mission is one and only: distribute the fish in the various stands for sale. Not even the rain can stop them. The drops of water slide on their waterproof jackets and transparent plastic umbrellas look like futuristic shields.
Unfortunately for us foreigners, participating in the tuna auction is not so simple as the access to the central market is limited to sellers/buyers only. To kill time, I thought that sushi for breakfast was a good idea. Outside the central market, in fact, there are several restaurants, where they serve fresh fish in various ways. After my super-protein breakfast, I enter into the chaos of the market to discover the strangest types of fish to be eaten.
Within the fish market, everyone has their specific role: those who clean the fish, those who display it carefully on the stands and those who sell it. Everything moves quickly but harmoniously until lunchtime. Then in the blink of an eye everything fades like a dream. So until the following night.
I’m not sure if October is usually like this but what I know is that I saw a lot of rain in Tokyo that time. However, I have to thank it because it gave me the opportunity to explore parts of the city that I might not have visited on a beautiful sunny day.
The National Art Center of Tokyo (NACT) was my first surprise. The sinuous and elegant modern building, designed by architect Kisho Kurokawa, hosts several temporary exhibitions.
To my great pleasure, I was there during the exhibition of the magnificent Mr Tadao Ando. This brilliant and adventurous self-taught architect has defined his style by enhancing the beauty of simplicity, emptiness and austerity. The exhibition was developed in several rooms, where sketches, scale models and pictures outlined the professional growth of Tadao. This intense and suggestive experience allowed me to get to know this artist much better and to spot his work in the streets of Tokyo during the rest of my trip.
At the end of this trip between the concrete structures of Tadao, I watch another exhibition inside the NACT: SUNSHOWER – Contemporary Art from Southeast Asia ,1980s to Now. This exhibition was displayed in two different museums, the NACT and the Mori Art Museum. Through its art pieces, this exhibition was trying to express the story of the Asian region that, after the end of the colonial era, was overwhelmed by enormous political, social and economic upheavals. A multi-ethnic, multi-linguistic and multi-religious experience defined each one of my steps between the different art-works.
I don’t know if when you go to Tokyo these exhibitions will still be there but surely there will be as many exciting exhibitions as those ones. My conclusion: even on a sunny day it would still be worth it.
And the rest of Tokyo?
The rest of Tokyo is vast, penetrating and almost alienating. It seems to be thrown directly into Blade Runner, which, by the way, was actually set in 2019. Coincidence or futuristic vision?
The streets are swarming with people and overwhelmed by publicity slogans, deafening music and flashy lights expressing an unidentified voice from a society oppressed by severe social structures. In some corners, however, there are still signs of tradition like temples and silent gardens as oases in the desert.
What to see in Kyoto, Japan. Practical information
Sleep in comfortable burial recess
An experience you must absolutely try is to sleep in the “capsules”. In fact, to optimize space, some accommodations are equipped with more or less large berths where it is possible to sleep. The idea could refer to the burial recess but once this prejudice is overcome these “capsules” prove to be really comfortable. During my trip, I stayed at the hostel (Kaisu – http://kaisu.jp/). Kaisu backpacker is located near the Roppongi district in a convenient location to easily move around the city. The bar inside the house is visited by the guests of the hostel but it is also open to the public, and it gets quite crowded during the art-exhibition evenings. Definitely, a great place to stay.
Walking around the city
You will find plenty of information in your travel guides on which neighbourhoods to visit so here I will only focus on the one that impressed me most.
While walking around, I ended up, by chance, in the area between the Omote-Sando metro stop and the Harajuku stop (near the Shibuya district) and I was pleasantly surprised by the sought-after simplicity of this neighbourhood. The flashy lights and loud music of Shinjuku district leave space for the tranquillity of small houses, particular shops and small bars with an alternative flavour. An interesting turning point on your way to Meiji Jingu garden.
If you find yourself near the Senso-ji temple I recommend you visit the Kappabashi Kitchen Town. In these streets you can find (and buy) the plastic reproductions of most of the food cooked in Japan: these reproductions are made so well that I guarantee your mouth will be watering.
Studio Ghibli Museum
I don’t know if you are big fans of the Studio Ghibli animations but in case you are, I suggest you visit this museum in Tokyo. Unfortunately, I didn’t know you had to book quite in advance (even 3 months before) to have the opportunity to enter in this enchanted world so I had to postpone this visit to the next trip.
You can find all the relevant information on the official Studio Ghibli website.
However, to console me of the missed visit, I adopted the little Totorino who immediately became a trusted travel companion.