Biking Tokyo’s Shibuya & Shinjuku at night
This year our fantastic three storey Tokyo townhouse came with two bikes and we are enjoying the city more than ever. We were provided with new bikes by our hosts who are like genie in a bottle.
Quick rant on our gorgeous house in Setagaya
Three storeys does sound awfully grand, and in Tokyo terms it is, but it is funny to see different reactions from friends. Japanese: “Wow, you live in a house – that is a big house for you two.” European: “It is a house and only has two rooms?” Hilarious. As for my part, I already got used to Japanese proportions and started to love the compactness of Tokyo and its one family house units.
The garage takes up all of ground level, second floor is occupied by the kitchen, dining table, toilet and couches, where we laid out two futons as bedding for friends and top floor has a double bed, laundry closet and shower/bathroom. I could not wish for a more comfortable base from which to explore Tokyo.
Tokyo is ‘cycle paradise’.
Short break to help a Japanese girl get her high heel back, stuck in grid iron. We managed! Japanese girls willingly wear killer heels.
Tokyo’s streets by bike
We have cycled from Setagaya to Shibuya yesterday and today it was Setagaya to Shinjuku, the latter tour of about 15 km one way – a recreational ride through the perfectly small streets of Tokyo. This mega-metropolis is pleasantly bike-able. You would expect huge motorways and intersections cutting through downtown like in Seoul but Tokyo has kept its traditional character.
Despite high rises and neon garishness, I was surprised that Tokyo’s most famous districts consist of many one way streets and typical two storey family houses with the occasional residential block thrown in, naturally blended in convenience stores, small boutiques, shops, little groceries, ramen and yakitori eateries. A ride is never boring, passing through endless (and I never want it to end either) cosy shopping streets and residential parts.
Shopping street impressions.
I think the only downer of Tokyo by bike is the extremely limited parking space for bikes. Going out downtown with a bike is no different than going with a car when it comes to looking for a parking lot. There are designated spaces but mostly these are full, so people leave their bikes anywhere, as long as it doesn’t block the way of pedestrians. But it is worth to look out for designated bike lots, tickets are common, you can get towed away and that is a costly matter – you may be expected to pay 5000 yen.
See what I mean? The charge of troublesome!
At the bike park, 10 hours cost 100 yen.
The neat thing is that you can pay with your pasmo (metro card) as well! Swipe pasmo at the left machine or pay traditionally at the right device.
Take in the (good) air, tranquillity, safety
Tokyo is so big and cosmopolitan, yet so quiet and clean. Buses turn off their engines when waiting at red lights, people commute using public transport, traffic is smooth and reduced. I don’t feel haunted by construction noise or the usual Asia never sleeps city buzzing. Riding my bike, I am amazed how tranquil the streets and how crisp and fresh the air is.
After a while you will notice something else in Tokyo: the incredible feeling of safety. Tokyo is a city, well actually you can say, Japan a country with virtual no crime or vandalism. Umbrellas are left in front of shops or private homes, you will see figurines, flower pots, house decoration, chairs, bikes (often unlocked) and not to mention the armies of vending machines.
Take in Japanese housing
It is a pleasure to run past and look at Japanese housing, which is a mix of Japanese modesty, modern minimalism, European knock off houses (perfect copies of British cottages scaled down to micro size), traditional wooden residences and (some seriously hideous) 70s/80s real-estate-boom architecture. There is so much detail and nothing in Japan is coincidental. A figure here, a mini yard there, Zen stone arrangements, bonsai trees, micro sized green areas. I haven’t seen much of a garden on our ride today – houses are standing so close, you can touch your neighbour when reaching out a window, which are tiny and made of non transparent glass, to make the most of privacy – in a city where each m2 comes at a premium price.
Balconies, just like gardens, are unaffordable and come to think of it, a waste of space in Tokyo. If you were going to spent your day at work and your evenings at the izakaya, the weekends shopping, at temples, restaurants, karaoke, bars and onsen, finally your ten holiday-days-off-work breezing through a Europe-in-a-week trip… there is no need for salary (wo)men to succumb themselves to melanoma-inducing weather conditions on a balcony.
If you have seen the incredibly pale and porcelain skinned Japanese women, hiding under kawaii umbrellas, hats, caps and arm covers, you will know that a balcony is a threat to beauty. In fact, living in Japan is like being on a never ending vacation. Working as a salary man in Japan is known to be a full time commitment but the rewards are just outside the office. Walk out the door and you have everything to feed you, clothe you, entertain you – right after work. This is not about meeting basic needs, this is about top of the notch food, fashion, cultural distraction and shopping convenience.
Some of our energy suppliers on the way.
Take in Shibuya and Shinjuku
Today we rode up to the mecca of garishness, high rises, neon lights and all the flashy images Hollywood flicks and high gloss magazines reveal.
Glimpses of Shibuya
The famous scramble crossing.
Club promoters are preying on Japanese locals on the brightly lit streets in Kabukichō, the red light district of Tokyo.
The district is crammed with love hotels, themed clubs, game arcades, most notably pachinko slot parlours (the way Japan has legalized gambling in a country where gambling is prohibited) and of course, small eateries selling an eclectic variety of traditional edibles.
Almost forgot to mention karaoke! Whole buildings dedicated to sing the night away with smashing J-pop, notably Japan’s number one idol girl group AKB 48 – which never ages (with no less than 88 band members and the cut off age being 19, new faces come in on a regular basis).
Here we have some doctor themed erotic distractions – getting a lot of smoke from the nearby eatery. It was difficult to breath walking past the Japanese grill.
Men’s relaxation DIY cabins.
Dinosaur, pterodactyl and
boobies women promoting the new Robot Restaurant. I believe food is secondary. It looks more like a freak show satisfying nerdy fantasies of girls in bikinis playing with oversized robots and dinosaurs. I yet need to see Tokyo’s newest addition to the entertainment world!
Looks promising, what’ ya think?
I remember the first time I went to Shinjuku and all that buzz was sooo hypnotising. The neon lights, the fascinating signs and Japanese characters, the geometrically perfect intersections, the elegant taxis with automatically opening doors to white laced seats and white gloved rivers, Japanese dekotora light trucks flashing advertising and music, the sheer energy that the city emits… is literally electrifying. Overwhelming and fascinating.
Japan will blow your mind. Be it by car, bike or foot.
I was excited to write about the bike trip to some popular districts in Tokyo after reading a mail from my mum, who is finishing all of Haruki Murakami‘s works and sharing her newly acquired Tokyo images regularly – most recently the fascinating descriptions of Murakami’s bike rides through Tokyo. Mum, you were an inspiration to this post!