City Guide Tokyo

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Lost in Perfection

Issue 02/2008


Text and Photos TJ Bruder (Tokyowildcat)  Illustration Roman Klonek

A breathtaking skyline, an alarmingly efficient transport system, an endless flood of information, distributed via every conceivable medium and a permanent polite smile welcome visitors to Tokyo. In a nutshell: only one thing awaits here: perfection. If you only have good, old-fashioned Europe to thank for your own socialisation, however, then you are sure to soon feel slightly overwhelmed by the Far Eastern metropolis – a little 'Lost in Translation' so to say, as correctly recognised by Sofia Coppola, and you will feel responsible for the fact that – Far Eastern wisdom here or there – you become more or less illiterate as soon as you set foot on Japanese land. After all, who can decipher those unfamiliar characters without several years of study behind them?

Although travellers to Tokyo may be baffled as far as communication and orientation are concerned, they mostly secretly harbour the desire to develop this rendezvous into more than just a fleeting encounter. A survey recently brought to light just what it is that attracts most visitors to the foreign planet of Tokyo: their appetite for Japanese food above all, a passion for Japanese fashion, enthusiasm for old temples and the latest technical gadgetry. Young Chinese and Korean designers have already selected Tokyo's fashion districts as their preferred playing fields and increasing numbers of Europeans coming to try their luck. It is likely still the myth that Tokyo is one of the most expensive places in the world that puts a lot of off a trip to this really unique city. The strong Euro, however, is taking the wind out of the sails of such arguments. A lunch menu for example is available in many Tokyoite restaurants and cafés for around 1,000 Yen, which is not even seven Euros.

30 million inhabitants live in the wider area of Tokyo. And around ten million live in the municipal area – impressive figures, which for outsiders seem somewhat daunting. But unlike many other world metropolises Tokyo is not only an absolutely safe spot, from an architectonic perspective it's by no means the concrete jungle that one would perhaps expect. Old and new, green and grey exist here harmoniously side by side, flow almost seamlessly into one another and form an urban patchwork rug, which is a cut above the rest: it isn't only the fact that every district has its own particular flair; as well as a huge visual variety the city also has a sheer multitudinous offer of gastronomy, fashion, art and culture. Attracting particular attention from the average non-Japanese visitor are the countless sub-cultures, which start with punk and hip-hop and by no means end with 'Visual Kei' and 'Gothic Lolita' and which are lived out in each of the clearly defined areas.

Vintage and designer fashion for a wider audience can mainly be found in the fashion districts of Harajuku to Minami-Aoyama, in Koenji, Daikanyama and Naka-Meguro. English may not always prove as helpful in the Tokyoite shopping jungle as one would expect from the capital city of the second biggest economic power in the world, but sufficient assistance is to be found almost everywhere. Unlike in other countries, Japanese sales staff are almost always proven experts, who are more than happy to provide copious information about every last detail of the products on sale. Restaurant visits are a bit less structured – which could be down to the occasionally obscure selection of dishes and drinks on offer, rather than the service, which is always great.

If you're planning a short trip it's best to get an idea of the destination before you set off, to find out which Japanese speciality you really have to sample and what it is that you absolutely need to see in this megacity. Unless, however, you're one of those tourists who would prefer to simply wander around and soak up Tokyo's atmosphere – which is maybe not such a bad idea after all. Even after repeated visits suddenly an unknown bar, pretty store or park will magically appear from nowhere at the end of some random narrow side-street. If you think you've long since covered every last centimetre of this city, then you're mistaken – the best is always yet to come.

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