Two days in Tokyo with Takumi
The best way to enjoy Tokyo is with a good friend and a Japanese native. Takumi happens to embody both.
This meant that we had a lot of fun exploring Tokyo, strolling through the city, at the same time going through many invaluable learning experiences and inter-cultural discussions.
We got a serious injection of Japanese culture, habits and behaviours on top of a major language boost. (Thank you, Takumi, for not yet giving up on me.)
It was a lot about exchanging big thoughts. Like my idea to revolutionize the Japanese language and simply leave out (the damn hard and no chance for gaijin ever to acquire) kanji which unfortunately did not fall onto approving ground, or Takumi’s idea of revolutionizing the educational system by pushing some boundaries which I so far only admire and secretly hope for any Japanese rules not to be stirred up.
Generally what I learned is that people tend to appreciate more what they do not have than what they are born to live with. And I do have a tendency for stating the obvious.
But apart from heated discussions (to be continued) this is what we did and saw.
To start the day on a high, we got our caffeine boost at the best coffee shop in Tokyo. No, definitely not shitty chain fare Starbucks. Far from it. We visited a small and unique place in Waseda.
The Nampou Yuubinki (南方郵便機) coffee bar with the master coffee maker behind the coffee bean counter. This place is exclusively about coffee.
After the caffeine kick had set in, we were ready to tackle some culture.
The Tsubouchi Memorial Theatre Museum. This Waseda University building reminded me a lot of the Shakespearean Globe Theatre in London. It actually is named after Tsubouchi Shoyo who translated all Shakespearean works into Japanese. I liked the architecture of this old structure more than the somewhat dry exhibition.
Location: 1-6-1 Nishi-Waseda, Shinjuku, Tokyo 169-8050; entrance is free
Takumi was showing us around his university campus and found his alter ego on the Waseda University picture map. In the corner picture (I did that collage by myself) he is standing in front of the English studies department. Takumi is now an English teacher in Nagoya. With the endurance of a (linguistic) Samurai he manages to learn Italian, Polish and German, too.
Tokyo’s architecture is rather modern with a lot of contemporary art. I have a thing for lagomorphs and must remember not to buy everything that has a bunny on it (which is a challenge in Tokyo). Thankfully this rabbit sculpture was not for sale. So weren’t the free hugs at Shibuya.
Instead of furry creatures and hugs, we bought us some sandwiches. Strawberry sandwiches. Because we are in Tokyo and crazy things are now possible.
Lawson, Family Mart and Seven Eleven are Japanese convenient stores that will change your life for the better.
You might end up in a kawaii strawberry fields forever heaven. Like this:
We then moved on to the most recognizable building in Tokyo. The one with the poo on top.
The one Tomek is trying to remove to get a nice panorama view over Sumida river. What was Philippe Starck thinking when he designed that golden turd (as Japanese call it) and then placed it on (what was supposed to be) a beer-jug-shaped headquarter building for Asahi – Japan’s popular booze.
The turd did not move, here is the panorama.
Location for view: AzumaBashi bridge, close to Asakusa Station.
When travelling in Japan you got to know this cat, the maneki neko. It is the Japanese lucky cat with its reckoning paw to draw in fortune and all the good things. He is not winking, you guys. Pinky swear.
With this one you can look through the eyes and I think you will be able to see your future. With a funny fish eye bulging angle. At least I did.
It will give you a different perspective of reality. And I do not mean that in a poetic way.
To my future. I will spent the rest of the day with these guys and the right one is going to stick with me forever. Lucky me.
When strolling around the East bank of Sumida river it felt a bit like I was in Europe, walking along the river Rhine of my hometown Cologne in Germany. The glimmering fountain stairs and musicians jamming at the promenade, the old fashioned street lamps all added to the nostalgia.
But Tokyo is all about modern design and so we took a walk to the newest and most recent structure in Tokyo which comes second in the tallest-building-of-the-world-competition, with over 600 meters. The Skytree Tower better be earthquake proof.
It only opened in May 2012 and when we were here last year in March, it was not finished or maybe not even started yet – considering the crazy pace at which new buildings mushroom out of nowhere in Tokyo.
The guys were thrilled.
The Skytree Tower had various exhibitions and many souvenir shops with many very sweet and time worthy thingies to look at, to further inspect, touch and think about purchasing, then reconsidering again (that sounds only a bit like me but who would not like bunny pencil trays). It was getting dark when we left.
In case you don’t know, Japan is going to celebrate Hanami (the beautiful period of cherry blossom) soon. That is why Skytree Tower and Hello Kitty have put on their flowery Hanami apparel.
Tokyo’s Roppongi Hills are worth a visit to see a fascinating example of urban development – at the same time Japan’s largest. Characterized by the tall Mori building and Roppongi Hills Residences. Initiated by Minoru Mori who was the building tycoon in Japan and one of the richest people in the world.
I have Tomek. The sky is the limit.
Close to Shimbashi Station, the façade of Japan’s Nippon Television headquarters is adorned with an overdiomensional cuckoo clock by Hayao Miyazaki. It comes to life for about 4 minutes every day at 10 am, noon, 3, 6 and 8 pm.
When looking at the clock you can see many details Miyazaki used in his animated masterpiece called Howl’s Moving Castle, my favourite of his films. The big old fashioned clock made realize how precious our time is, how incredibly lucky I am to see this and how I should better use it to create my world of happiness, just like Miyazaki created his. Yep, where was I?
After all that sight seeing it was time to do something relaxing. The boat cruise. Keeping adrenaline threshold levels at a stable level, you can take a trip on Sumida river for about 40 minutes and admire all the bridges that you will pass from below.
The Tokyo Cruise starts from where the lucky cat was positioned – at the Azuma Bashi Bridge close to Asakusa Station.
You can sit next to your loved one, pretend that you are cold and snuggle up. I do that and it works every time.
The best cure for minor ailments is definitely a bar. However, in Tokyo’s bars you have to get used to the fact that you will get an (un-)fair share of passive smoking. Bars are the place to smoke. A mystery regarding the non-smoking regulation that applies to virtually any public space, on all streets, stations, in buildings… but for some reason it excludes bars.
So in the midst of smoky smelly mist we took some time to decipher the meaning of the Hanami themed poster – picturing a skeleton drinking with his friend. Beautifully macabre poster. Then we marvelled at Japan’s inventions. Such as the beermat which does not function as a advertising surface but just is a slip safe beermat. Amazing, right? I only knew the advertising kind.
The bar is called Fiction located at 2-19-7, Takadanobaba, Shinjuku, Tokyo on the 2nd floor of the Tak Eleven Building (東京都新宿区高田馬場2-19-7 タックイレブンビル 2F). Mr Azuma, the friendly bartender serves all the drink, cocktail, booze variety you like.
Takumi savoured a whiskey or two. And told us about Totoro. The Japanese anime creature, created by Hayao Miyazaki (again), that is a kids’ best friend. Only the little ones are able to see and talk to Totoro. After the age of five children loose this ability as the magic of childhood gradually disappears.
This is Totoro. Totally overweight but damn cute.
PS. I have not told anyone but I do keep in touch with Totoro who is my friend and regularly visits for a chat about his ongoing avoidance of one dimensional grown-ups. If you like to contact him leave a comment below and I will pass it on.
[Please see the next post for day two in Tokyo with Takumi.]