The world’s third-largest stock exchange is found in Tokyo, headquartered in the financial district of Nihonbashi. Guests are welcome to visit the complex, and watch the high-stakes action from a platform above the main trading floor.
When Tokyo wants to relax, it comes to Odaiba, an artificial island which began as a set of defensive fortifications but has become the city’s premiere entertainment zone. With museums, arcades, parks and more shopping than a person could possibly need, a day spent in Odaiba will almost certainly be expensive, tiring and loads of fun.
Japan’s most famous cultural offering, Kabuki, is not an art form meant to cater to Western tastes. The performances can last all day long. The acting, done exclusively by men, is second-fiddle to the make-up and costumes. Monologues go on interminably. The music is strange and the dialogue is usually recited in an exaggeratedly affected, chiming manner. There is no earthly reason why Jürgen and I should have enjoyed it. But we did.
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.)
“This is fun,” I said to the girl working at the cafe, raising my voice to be heard above the squawking. “But it would never be allowed in America!” She looked at me, baffled, and asked why not. At this moment, there were six parakeets on my head, and bird poop was running down my shoulder. Something was pecking at my neck and, in the next room, people were petting an eagle. I considered explaining, but decided against it. Regarding animal cafes, the rift between our cultures might be too wide.
The rain was showing no sign of stopping. We stared sullenly at the clouds from our habitual perch in the SkyTree’s sixth-floor Starbucks and tried to figure out what to do with the day. Suddenly, an inspiration: the Sumida Aquarium. A brilliant idea! So brilliant, in fact, it was shared by approximately 74% of Tokyo.
It’s hard to say exactly when Tokyo started to frighten me, but it was probably during our visit to Yoyogi Park. While watching Japanese rockabillies bounce-step to Joan Jett, I moved out of the way for a couple dressed in… let’s call it “Victorian Gothic Steampunk, Pastels Version.” And that’s when it hit home: something’s not quite right in this city.
Perched atop the Niimi Building, the giant head of an Italian chef welcomes visitors to Kappabashi-dōri, where Tokyo’s restaurants come to buy the things they need to run their business: chopsticks, cups, bowls, knives, takeaway containers, and naturally, an infinite variety of plastic foods.