February 15-21, 2004
After a break of just over a year, I’m in Tokyo again. If I count correctly, it’s my twelfth visit. And of course I still haven’t seen everything – in a city of such size and variety that’s just not possible. As usual, just a few glimpses.
Gardens and Temples Among the High-Rises
The New Otani is a huge hotel that includes two modern high-rises, but it also preserves a 400 year old garden, with ponds, bridges, waterfalls, carefully trimmed trees, and a few traditional buildings that house restaurants and a chapel. It’s a delight to walk around in the garden, as long as you lower your eyes enough to not notice the high-rises all around.
About a kilometer away is Hie-jinja. The shrine buildings aren’t all that interesting, but the three different access paths are: There are the grand stone stairs rising towards the traditional-looking front gate (which now faces a smaller street), there is a tunnel of torii arches climbing towards the back entrance, and there is a brand-new pompous stairs-and-escalator monument leading from the main street to a minor side entrance.
The entire area is of course dominated by office and hotel high-rises. Most of them don’t look very creative, but the reflections between their glass façades sometimes add an interesting touch.
Escaping From the Uniforms
Most schools in Japan require students to wear uniforms and don’t exactly encourage individuality. But for the weekend, some students (mostly girls) try something different: They join the costume play gang in Harajuku, dressed up in various outlandish outfits. The event is obviously a big attraction for tourists and photographers, with some of the latter clearly treating the girls as free models.
Busy at Any Time
The Hachiko intersection outside the Shibuya station is reputedly the busiest pedestrian intersection in the world, and looking at the crowds on Monday night at 10p.m. I can believe it. Shibuya is one of the main shopping and entertainment areas of Tokyo. The Starbucks overlooking the intersection is also said to be the busiest, and I certainly can’t name any other where I had to wait for a place to sit at 11p.m. – most aren’t even open at that time. Interestingly, two other Starbucks that used to be in the area seem to have disappeared – maybe victims of the high rents in the area?