Tuesday, September 06, 2011

Five days in Tokyo

Tokyo's manic energy is intoxicating. I don't know if it's the lights or the crowds or the futuristic vibe of the city. Whatever it is, it's impossible not to feel a rush of excitement while walking under a night sky blotted out by neon signs.

The best way to get to Tokyo is by bullet train. Being on a train going more than 300 kilometres an hour sets the tone for the trip. Riding the bullet train is like sitting in an airplane as it roars down the runway just before takeoff. That burst of takeoff speed is the thing I love most about flying. The only problem is that it doesn't last long. On a bullet train, you get the thrill of traveling at takeoff speed for more than two hours. You feel like you're hurtling headlong into the future.

I have a newfound appreciation for Tokyo. Maybe it's because I've been in Kyoto for too long. Living in Kyoto is like being in a small bar with jazz playing softly in the background. It's smooth, easy and comfortable. Going to Tokyo is like entering a huge nightclub with techno thumping from the speakers. It's loud, crowded and frantic. The bass rattles your teeth, the lights sweep over a sea of heads dancing in unison. The energy is contagious. There's nothing to do but look for a space in the crowd, slip in and let go.

The beauty of big cities is their diversity. There's a greater variety of people and lifestyles. In turn, people in big cities tend to be more accepting and tolerant than their small-town counterparts. You won't see gay couples holding hands on the streets of Tokyo but you will see a lot creative and non-conformist people -- stylistically speaking, at least. People in Tokyo are not afraid to dye their hair green, pop the lenses out of their glasses, carry a bag with a huge kitten painted on it, pair chunky purple shoes with red pants, and top it all off with a gold-sequined shirt. And those are just the guys. Harajuku girls elevate cosplay to an art form. Kyoto seems so conservative by comparison.

There is no shortage of things to do in Tokyo. On Saturday alone, there was a jazz festival, a bicycle film festival, an organic farmers' market, a high school cheerleading competition and a march against nuclear power.

It was inspiring to see hundreds of people marching against nuclear power. A lot of Japanese people are angry about the Fukushima disaster. And they are making their voices heard. I only hope the politicians are listening. The times they are a-changin'.

After the protest march, I ate a vegetarian falafel at the organic farmers' market at the United Nations University. It doesn't get much more politically correct than that! I felt like I was back in Vancouver.

Tokyo is a great place to visit but I wouldn't want to live there. Too big. Too many people. There are more people in the Greater Tokyo area (35 million) than in all of Canada (34 million). Five days in Tokyo was fun. But I couldn't imagine a lifetime of crowded trains, cramped living conditions and concrete as far as the eye can see.

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