My trip to Japan was very short indeed. In fact, it was just a 6 day long break I took in the middle of my tour of South Korea and I spent all of it in Tokyo area. Although I didn’t get to see the wonderful rural Japan about the existence of which so many of us have no idea, I did acquire a pretty good understanding of what modern Japan has to offer.
The 21st century urban Japan is amazing and confusing, fascinating and at times scary. Everything seems to be happening fast. You’re surrounded by the noise of the living city and often maddening J-Pop music blaring out through the speakers of passing mobile-advertisement-vans or from huge screens fixed on buildings above street level. Oftentimes you get to witness a clash of the traditional with the modern – while crossing the street you bump into a genuine sumo wrestler or a monk only to see that behind him walks a perfect specimen of an otaku in full cosplay who decided on an outing beyond the borders of Akihabara, the district of Tokyo renowned for catering to needs of an otaku. A word of explanation to the layfolk: otaku is a person with obsessive interest in anime, manga and video games while cosplay is an abbreviation of costume play which basically refers to the practice of wearing accessories and costumes of one’s favourite fictional characters, usually characters taken from comic books or video games. It’s worth noting that in Japan cosplayers form a real subculture and their practice of wearing costumes is accepted as part of Japanese street fashion. Also, just to make a distinction, to be a true otaku one doesn’t have to indulge in cosplay yet to be a true cosplayer you most certainly are an otaku!
Yet even in the bustling Tokyo a traveller or city dweller can get some respite in the immaculately maintained parks, like the Yoyogi Park complete with the adjacent Meiji Shrine, or the Imperial Palace East Gardens. If you don’t fancy any greenery then you can always kick back at a beach on the artificial Odaiba Island. Although swimming is not allowed, the view of Tokyo with the Rainbow Bridge at your feet and Tokyo Tower in the background more than makes up for this. Yes, Tokyo as a representative of modern Japan seems to have it all and my experiences there left me wanting more. Who knows, maybe soon I might find myself in the Land of the Shogun, visiting the more traditional cities like Kyoto, or traversing its islands one after another and having random conversations with the most amiable people that inhabit them.
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