The Cute is everywhere in Tokyo, and you’re not going to escape it. You shouldn’t even try. This is a city with fluffy animals on every corner. Where buses prowl the streets disguised as pandas. Where every corporation and even the police force have their own charming mascot. The Cute cannot be avoided, so you might as well embrace it.
The Maneki Neko, or “Beckoning Cat,” is one of Japan’s most iconic images. Thought to bring luck and prosperity to their owners, these cats are frequently found outside businesses and within homes. And in the neighborhood of Setagaya, we found the Gotoku-ji temple, where the Maneki Neko plays a starring role.
We had seen a lot of Tokyo’s different faces: cute, modern, weird, beautiful, historic, confusing. But until our visit to East Shinjuku, we hadn’t experienced the famously seedy side of Tokyo. The Golden Gai, Kabukicho and Piss Alley are three areas which forever changed our impression of the city. (A change for the better? I’ll leave that unanswered.)
If there’s one thing that Japan does well, it’s making childish things awesome enough for adults. Arcades and video games? I don’t think children even could play the games in Japanese arcades. Much of the Japan’s anime and manga is definitely adult-oriented. Toys, games, Gundam models… Japanese parents are as obsessed with these things as are their children. And that’s why I don’t feel terribly guilty about all the crazy candy we bought. It’s irresistible, and it’s not really just for kids… at least, that’s what I kept telling myself. Here were our favorites:
We spent many entertaining evenings in Shibuya, which has become one of the most exciting areas in Tokyo. There are so many bars, shops and things to do here, that it would be hopeless to attempt listing them all. But here were a few of our personal favorites.
Tokyo Big Sight is an exhibition hall which opened on Odaiba in 1996. In addition to its strange name, the complex is known for its radical architecture: four interlocking, upside-down, titanium pyramids. We approached against a tide of anime fans, all of whom were going the opposite way. A convention called Comic City had wrapped up for the day, but we noticed that the crowd was made up almost entirely of women — this convention had been dedicated to manga written for the female market. There were guys here, too, but they were all photographers hoping to get portraits of the cosplay girls. We joined in.
Mom always said that it’s best to be prepared. “Hope for the best, darling, but plan for the worst.” And in earthquake-prone Tokyo, the worst can be very bad indeed. Since we always listen to our moms, Jürgen and I dutifully visited the Disaster Preparation Park, on Odaiba Island.
You’ve been to a casino, right? The ringing sounds, the stale stench of tobacco, the confusion, the sad people so desperate to be happy? All that is familiar. But a pachinko hall takes the wholesome goodness of a casino and condenses it down to its most vile. It exaggerates the sensory overload beyond belief. ¡¡MAXIMIZES THE SOUND!! Multiplies the confusion. Doubles down on the hopelessness. And achieves the impossible, by creating a place of gambling in which I have absolutely no interest.
It’s safe to say we’ve never dined in an atmosphere remotely similar to that of Shibuya’s Alcatraz E.R. The name says it all: this theme restaurant is meant to emulate the experience of eating inside the blood-spattered emergency room of a high-security prison. Have I mentioned that Tokyo is a little strange?
It’s not the best place to take a date, nor would you want to visit after eating a large meal, but the Parasitological Museum in Meguro makes a wonderful excursion for when you… I mean, it’s fun if you’re in the mood for… Or, it’s interesting for those who… You know what? I’m drawing a blank. I can’t think of a single non-creepy reason to visit the Parasaitological Museum. Unless you’re a professional parasitologist. (Even then, the very fact that you’re a parasitologist is kind of creepy.)