Japan: Real-Life Anime (Part I)

Traditional and modern meet in Tokyo’s hyperreality.

I saw Sailor Moon handing out flyers in Akihabara.

I’ve been in Tokyo for 48 hours, and the line between reality and fiction still seems blurry.

To say this megalopolis of ancient temples and technological might is another world would be an understatement.

Almost immediately after the 14-hour flight from Newark, I hopped on the subway to reach the world-famous Shibuya Crossing.

The world’s busiest intersection greeted me with a choreography that made the crossing look empty one minute and inundated with what looked like millions of people the next.

Shibuya Crossing

The next day, the colorful stores and characters of youth Mecca Harajuku made me feel like a guest character in a live-action anime. I understood why Gwen Stefani was obsessed with it back in 2004.

Takeshita Street

Harajuku offers more than just fashionable boutiques. A short stroll away, the magnificent Myōenji Temple and its adjacent graveyard (or hakaba) stand against the backdrop of a modern residential building, where a baby cried incessantly: a perfect metaphor for the circle of life. 

Myōenji Temple

The Onden Shrine is another religious jewel in the neighborhood, blessing romantic relationships for 400 years and counting. I loved the komainu or lion-dog statues and the ubiquitous hanging pieces of origami-ed paper (ofuda) left as offerings.

Onden Shrine

Experiencing Tokyo’s Pedestrian Paradises was another priceless treat. On the weekends, the city closes car traffic on main avenues in several districts. Cycling and jogging are prohibited so the walkers can enjoy themselves as peacefully as possible. My first pedestrian paradise was in Ginza, where I got to strut between its many clothing stores. 

Ginza Pedestrian Paradise

Ginza is also the home of Kabuki-za Theater, the main theater in Tokyo for kabuki. Initially built in 1889, the building has undergone several reconstructions due to fires, Allied bombings during WWII and concerns over earthquakes.

Kabuki-za Theater

The Wako Tower is another unmissable attraction in the area. Founded in 1881, the upscale department store sells watches, jewelry, porcelains, chocolates and handbags—among other high-end products. Reconstructed after the Great Kantō earthquake of 1923, it was one of the few remaining intact buildings after WWII.

Wako Tower

Akihabara was my second Pedestrian Paradise. Also known as Electric Town, this nerd’s (otaku) paradise with densely-packed, brightly lit and Casio keyboard-type music-playing buildings offers duty-free sales to tourists trickling in after the extended COVID lockdown.

Akihabara Pedestrian Paradise

Back to the digs in Chidoya-ku, I ran into the imposing Tokyo Daijingu. This work of art from the 1860s is where I first witnessed people worshipping. After removing my hat and discreetly handling my flashless phone camera from a prudent distance, I snapped this photo. 

Tokyo Daijingu

As per my hotel’s recommendation, I ended my day at a conveyor belt restaurant on the fourth floor of a busy neighborhood building. The only human contact was a bus person who bowed before clearing your spot on the plexiglass-protected counter after you rose to pay the check in a parking lot-style kiosk.

Suhsiro, Chiyoda-ku

I was never more grateful for my immigrant parents’ advice as a young kid: “wherever you go, do as the locals.” The lack of English instructions made me mimic my fellow patrons, unsuccessfully trying to blend in and navigate this “Jetsons”-type eatery. It was me against the sushi.

I was exhausted. It was time to return to my room, where I passed out, only for the second wave of jet lag to wake me up three hours later—hence, this post.

Part II

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