Tokyo, Japan

Shimmering haze over Shinjuku


Tokyo is the barrier of Japanese modernism: neon-colored, electrifying, futuristic, an over-twisted version of Western urbanity. One has the feeling of traveling to the future. But there is the end of an eternal dream.

Tokyo is the spearhead of Japanese modernism: neon-colored, electrifying, futuristic, an exaggerated version of Western urbanity. One has the feeling of traveling to the future. But there is the end of an eternal dream.

When in Shinjuku the skyscrapers begin to shine in the evening, you are in the future. In a science fiction city in neon light. Lights fall down the facades like colorful waterfalls, a huge crab over the entrance of a shop moves its scissors. Electronics, monitors and mobile phone cases everywhere. Shimmering glass, illuminated night. The day is over and the sidewalks are full of people.

I walked over from the Pärk Hyatt , where the Japanese Tourist Information Center kindly quartered me, to the Shinjuku Station, the largest train station in the world, where 3.5 million passengers board and disembark every day. In the afternoon, I landed after a grueling flight over Taiwan in Tokyo and have just dozed in the hotel. The futuristic glow of the city, reflected in my astonished eyes, now burns all the tiredness out of the body.

A week of tightly timed research is imminent. This is my first time in the largest city in the world, a metropolitan area with 35 million people. I think: it's crazy, now let's go.

Just behind Shinjuku Station begins Kabukicho, the red light district. It looks like a cheesy amusement park. Above a bar, the billboard shows women in underwear and machine guns, they call themselves "tank girls", the whole thing looks like the invitation to a bad action movie with some soft porn scenes.

The Lolita fetish is obvious: The ideal of beauty are schoolgirls with mini skirts and bambi eyes. Intimate shaving, one might assume, is not considered a beauty standard in Japan only because women really look like children.

In Kabukicho are also many so-called Love Hotels with pink lights and matte windows, so no one can see who goes in and out to do, yes, what to do? Rather than make love with a prostitute to sleep, that at least suggests the innocent aesthetics. This district is not dangerous, unless you can be lured by a windy scammer in a half- lousy bar.

Exploring the surroundings of my accommodation seems to me to make sense for the first evening. I walk through the streets and shops. At the same time, twenty televisions on the wall show TV advertising in a shopping center. The progress, which defines itself particularly in this place of the world over the constant access to consumer offers, is constantly fed back and ensures its own omnipresence. I am completely overwhelmed and also quite fascinated.

In order to be able to digest the first impressions and because I'm getting pretty hungry, I sit down in a Motsu snack bar. There is once an oolong tea with ice cubes. The guest pays a kind of table usage fee. In the display are meat skewers. From the pig there are heart, lungs and liver, but also uterus (kobukuro), ovary (tsubo-kobukuru) and vagina (kata-kobokuru).

A young Japanese woman in a plaited hat and blue dress waits for her food at the counter while the smoke of her cigarette mingles with the fumes of the barbecue. She sits so gracefully that I can immediately picture her in a café on Paris Avenue de Champs-Elysées.

Unlike the Europeans, the Japanese are never in public loud, quick-tempered or rampant. Tokyo is bigger, brighter and somehow over the top than the big cities I've seen so far. But at the same time everything is more efficient, disciplined, less prone to failure: a condition that drove the great Asian reporter Tiziano Terzani into depression.

Alard von Kittlitz once wrote in the FAS : "Overall, Japan seems terribly superior." In fact, the city is highly civilized. A "enemy-free zone", Georg Diez once called Singapore. You could say the same about Tokyo. In the travel report, which I will write later, I put it this way: "One is as electrified, but never dares to follow a high-spirited impulse."

Diligence, achievement and obedience were the success factors of the Japanese rise. And what is tomorrow?

Japan is the Asian country that was the first to unconditionally break into modernity on the Western model. And Japan was the first major industrialized nation to enter a major deflation that has been going on for more than 20 years. The mass-produced goods just do not want to find correspondingly many mass buyers. With the debt grew the uncertainty. Of course, the wealth in Tokyo still glitters and shines. But the progress euphoria has disappeared.

Japan is at the zenith of an upward trend, followed by a slow decay, or at best a constant, such a state of emotional well-being, as described by Leif Randt in his novel Shimmering Dunst on Coby County : Everything is Pleasant, No Need, Im Kern really outstanding, only the self-forgetting exuberance stays out, the future is darkened. Japan is on the fin de siècle of a great century boom.

In Tokyo one feels once again whether anything is coming. What kind of feeling is this where the big dream comes to an end?

At some point, the fatigue drives me to the hotel, and I fall into a dreamless sleep, 21 floors above the city. Tokyo hangs in the clouds in the morning. The neon lights have gone out.

I force myself out of bed at 7 o'clock to start early with the sightseeing of the city. At the reception of my very distinguished hotel I am handed a subway plan. The course of the colorful lines looks like the careless scribble of a child, so confusing appears the route network at first glance. Later, however, I find myself astonishingly well.

The morning is clearing up pretty fast. Business people rush to Shinjuku Station. The station is more nested than most German airports. People slosh over the escalators like water. They are in a hurry, but stand up in front of the retracted trains in a row. There are markings on the ground. Also, that the Japanese stick in the subway with their faces on the disc, can not confirm first.

I drive first to the shopping district Ginza with its outrageously expensive boutiques and to the imperial palace. In the Eastern Gardens, the Imperial Police trains Kendo, screaming through the high hedge.

Afterwards we will visit the old quarter Ueno with its famous park. There stands the monument of General Takamori Saigo, who defeated in 1868 at the Meiji Restoration as chief commander of the Imperial troops, the soldiers of the shogun and restored the power of the emperor. He was one of the most famous samurai and role model of Last Samurai in the eponymous film.

The oldest temple area in Tokyo is located in Asakusa: the Sensoji Temple, a highly frequented tourist attraction, which I must also look at. Then follow: the electronics and anime district Akihabara, the Meiji Shrine and finally the hipster district Shibuya / Harajuku.

Takeshita Street looks like a mixture of urban fashion Mecca and Disneypark. Teenage girls with snapback caps and Obey caps walk the alley as if it were the most natural thing in the world and no deadly distinction gesture. Other brands are called GR8 and #Kill_yo , the shoes have a bright plastic look. Harajuku is Western pop culture, only more playful and with more candy colors.

The distances in Tokyo are by nature unlikely to be large. You descend the stairs to a subway station and have to walk another half kilometer until you reach your train. But you are always on the way, by friendly policemen, helpful Tokyo, by little Lolita girls on signs that explain how to behave in the temple or to enter the metro.

On the jute bag of a young woman is written: "Do not spend time beating on a wall / hoping to transfer it into a door." This is programmatic for the behavior of the Japanese. Nobody loses control, nobody loses his face.

After 10 hours of sightseeing I rest for a while in the hotel. Then I decide to visit the nightlife district Roppongi. While I might as well sleep, the old travel maxim is that you really only went to a city after seeing your nightlife.

And of course, the question is interesting: where in Tokyo is it possible to experience licentiousness and excess in the face of ubiquitous self-discipline and moderation? The answer is only a few hours in coming.

So Roppongi, the party district: certainly a good first address, if it pulls out without a specific plan into the night.

In a bar frequently visited by foreigners, I meet a French canadian named Felix, who tells me about his visit to a maid bar : The waitresses there are neko-girls , women with cat costumes. They served Felix only when he shouted "meow meow" twice. That's all, it's not about sex in these establishments. The whole thing is influenced by the manga culture, there are ordinary people.

I meet another German in the bar and we decide to try our luck out there together. The last subways run soon and the next only the next morning. But that is a circumstance that is accepted at this hour of the night without further irritation.

I can not remember the name of the club we're heading to. We're sure to get some money at a vending machine and take a taxi.

In the club itself, a lift leads upstairs. The bouncers are no problem. In the main hall, the stroboscope draws silhouettes in the air. To my surprise, almost only Japanese are on the dance floor. We order at the bar Gin Tonic, as if the evening has just begun. A fatal misperception.

We dance, drink and talk into the intoxication. The memories are already blurring, interlocking, getting gaps. Small talk here, a conversation there. Faces remain without expression, conversations without content, the room has no contours and is limited more by the music than by the walls.

Here, then, the excess is possible. The rebellion in a confined space, at a sharply defined time, in a darkroom in which everything mixes. Here it is also possible to overcome the loneliness and stagnation and to feel in a collective. Unambiguities and ambiguities happen, much more directly and immediately than in the "normal life" of Japanese everyday life.

"The Japanese are testing what happens to a highly developed civilization that remains at a standstill," journalist Malte Henk once wrote in DIE ZEIT . An experiment "as never before existed." It was the future itself that came to an end.

In the morning, the young people at the club may want to become bank clerks or insurance salesmen, the last column of the glittering wizardry that surrounds them in Tokyo. Or maybe they want to be different from their parents, only they can not be any different from the robotic men in the train with their black suits, between whom I wake up at 7am without a hint of orientation.

I have to come back, to Japan, to Tokyo.

But damn, today I have to go to holy mountain Fuji.

How in the world do I get to the hotel?

  1. Your blog is very interesting and has already shown me a glimpse of Tokyo and a foreign culture. I myself will be in Tokyo with a friend for 12 days in May 2015 (although the word "at" is not quite correct, as the houses are apparently tiny and can not accommodate overnight guests, so I was looking for a hotel near Ikebukuro ) spend. I am already looking forward to it.

    Since I work in a travel agency and was really amazed how difficult it is to find a hotel that meets my expectations and does not exceed my tight budget, I have a question:
    How do you get the honor of being quartered in a hotel by the Japanese Tourist Information Center? :)

    And, what's the name of the bar where you can often meet foreigners and make international contacts?

    greetings from Switzerland

    • Hello, Jessmen,

      I've been in Japan for work and was fortunate enough not to have to spend the night myself. Therefore, unfortunately I can not help with hotels.

      Also, the name of the bar is unfortunately omitted.

      Sorry that I can not say more!

  2. Thank you for the info, your blog post was just right :-) I'm flying tomorrow for the first time to Tokyo. LG Franzi

  3. Pingback: Blogschau Japan | Train to somewhere

  4. Thanks for the great blog post. Definitely fancy my upcoming trip to Tokyo

  5. Axel Baumann

    Tokyo is the spearhead and not the pinnacle of Japanese modernism.

    You give me a duden? - I saw your Facebook profile.

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