Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Tokyo (round 2) Sept 25-28

The first thing you should know about Tokyo is that Metropolitain Tokyo houses approximately the same population as all of Canada. One (crazy) city.

To say that Tokyo is unique is an understatement of massive proportions. Tokyo is about a million things, all rolled into one. Tokyo is majestically old yet wonderfully modern and creative. Tokyo is all organization and rules as well as innocence and perversion.

I could go on and on....and give you a page full of adjectives but I'm not sure I would be properly describing Tokyo or doing it justice. I think a better way to describe Tokyo is through a few standout experiences (both pictured above and below, some sort of festival-walk, seen on streets of Hajaruku).


Tokyo is so big that it is divided into wards, 23 of them to be precise. Each one of these wards could be a vacation destination in itself. When we read about Tokyo, trying to determine what we'd do, it felt a little overwhelming. We basically decided that we'd focus on just a couple of places. For approximately half of the time we were in Tokyo, we stayed in Shinjuku. We stayed in Asakusa, photographed here, for the remainder of the time.

Shinjuku is known for many things including its ubiquitous (and obnoxious) train station (see above), crazy bars, hundreds of restaurants, not-to-be-missed red light district, towering business center and quirky yet intense nightlife. We chose to stay in East Shinjuku on the fringe of the entertainment district.

Shinjuku is the least homogenous-place in all of Tokyo. It is rich, interesting, fast-paced and also complicated. We found our stay to be interesting, fun, dizzying and overwhelming.

We thought staying in Shinjuku would allow us to walk almost everywhere we wanted and that we'd really be in the heart of things, even if it was only for a few days. A certain amount of care was taken in chosing our hotel, which was about a half a km away from the reputed alleys of the golden gai, about the same distance from the red light district and only about 20 minutes walk from the insanity of Shinjuku station. In theory, we thought we could find almost anything we needed in about 15-20 minutes.


Our first order of business after arriving was to find a francophile bar called La Levée. We had a point of reference on a map, a name, a tentative location (in the alleys of the golden gai) and that's about it. According to all of these things, it was determined that la Levée was about 500m distance from our hotel. Again, one might *think* that this should be easy to find. Heh! One would think wrong. I'm pretty sure that neither of us was drunk by this point....but everything seemed to feel like this.

Shinjuku is a dizzying tangle of streets, alleys and temples. It ended up taking us over 2 hours to find La Levée....with a map. But the place did not disappoint.

We saw the small (minute) sign for the bar sandwiched between two other bars on a dimly lit side street. As we climbed the stairs to the 2nd floor, we had no idea what to expect. We did not expect to find a bar that sat less than 12 people.

We did not expect to spend the night laughing with a bunch of French ex-pats.

We did not expect to learn that regulars could buy their own bottles, mark them, and put them on the wall. We did not expect to see bottles marked with Quentin Tarrantino and Francis Ford Coppola (above). We did not expect to have such a great night.


When Erik proposed that we take in some baseball on our trip, I (Natalie) had my doubts. I (Natalie) had never been to see a major league game, and here I was, agreeing to see two of them in just as many weeks. The Tokyo Dome was a great place to get initiated to baseball. For those skeptics, I assure you that the Japanese take their baseball very seriously. The Yomiuri Giants franchise is 75 years old this year. They are the current leaders in their division and also the pride of Tokyo (and Japan, to a certain extent).

The Tokyo Dome is an electrifying dome which serves copious amounts of beer, hot dogs and sushi.

Fans are dedicated, hardcore and organized. In turn, their voices are loud, heartfelt and patriotic. The game itself went 0-0 for all nine regular innings. The fans tried to will it otherwise and both teams played their hearts out. But still a draw.

By the time the game went into its first overtime inning, the crowd had reached full fever pitch. The tension in the air was intoxicating, every swing a possible victory. And when Sakamoto swung his bat and connected with the ball, magic happened. Pure Magic. And I (Natalie) now truly GET why people LOVE baseball.


Sumo is as much part of Japanese culture as sushi and electronics. A Beginner's Guide to Sumo will tell you that sumo dates back at least 1500 years and actually helped determine, at some point, the future of the Japanese race.

Sumo is incredibly simple yet also strangely complex. The entire goal of a match is to throw your opponent to the ground or outside of the sumo ring. Simple. But not really, sumo is so much more. Sumo is about ranking, training, fight-winning moves, categories and ancient rituals and theatrics.

In a mini-post of its own, Erik posted the winning match at September's Grand Tournament. At the grandest of grand venues, the two wrestlers entertained not only an electrified crowd but also a newly elected Prime Minister. There were dozens of rituals that we observed (most of which we couldn't understand) and thousands of cheers and heckles that rung out like foreign songs throughout the stadium. Reigning Champion Asashoryu Akinori also did not disappoint. He stomped, he slapped and he yelled. Best of all though, he performed.

Although relegated to an obvious 'foreigners section' in the sumo stadium, the sumo tournament was one of the most authentically Japanese parts of our whole trip.


MoMots said...

Wow! Natalie, je veux y aller! J'aime beaucoup ton style d'écriture aussi. Merci.

Marie-Ève said...

Thank you again for making me travel through proxy. Just reading makes me dizzy, and brings me back to my trip to South Korea, ten years ago.

Tout ce que j'arrive à dire c'est WOW...

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