Mega City One

Posted by on Oct 12, 2011 in Tokyo, Travel Volunteer Journey | 5 Comments
Mega City One

Travelling inevitably leads to comparison. It’s a simple, unfortunate human condition. How do I know a to be good? I compare it to b and c. It’s very hard to switch off. Why not just enjoy a in its own right? Who knows? Like I said, it’s unfortunate.

But it does, at least, give your judgement some grounding. What use would it be to run around in startled wonder at every little thing? A person could soon end up a gibbering fool, not knowing what was good and what was bad. If a, b and c are all simply “awesome” then how can you pick them apart?

Thankfully, Katy and I have visited a fair few of the world’s great cities and have accrued an alphabet of letters with which to compare Tokyo. So having been to London, New York, Rome, Shanghai and the rest, how does it measure up?

The first thing to say is that, unexpectedly, Tokyo is the quietest of the bunch. The cars are near-silent and produce few emissions; there aren’t many smog-belching buses either. No one hits their horn. Street vendors don’t shout. People appreciate barcodes and have better things to do with their time than haggle over the cost of a bottle of water. Even in the sprawling Tsukiji fish market, people are dignified. All things considered, Tokyo is a pretty sedate monster.

Yet it’s loud in other ways. Across its colossal expanse, people aren’t afraid to splash colour across their clothes, hair and faces. There is a positively idiotic number of good looking people per square metre. Some crave attention at any cost. There is an absurd obsession with wearing glasses that carry no frames; thigh high boots and hot pants are extremely popular – not least with the men. There’s another look that puts a very strong emphasis on impossibly large hair and frilly clothes that come in golds and creams. So many folk are trying to stand out from the crowd that they’ve formed a psychedelic mob of their own.

In almost every way it feels completely removed from the rest of Asia; Tokyo feels far removed from Japan itself. Just as London has become its own teeming entity in Britain, and New York feels like its own nation within the United States, so Tokyo demands to be regarded in its own terms.

In some parts of Hokkaido, a kid with a two-foot tall mohawk and pierced eyebrows might be burned as a witch – here they’re just another barman.

The world comes to Tokyo, and in a town so relentlessly cosmopolitan as this, it’s possible to eat natto for breakfast, a hamburger from a street stall for lunch and Michelin-starred French cuisine for dinner. And after that, head to a bar and take your pick of the world’s whiskies. Of course it’s all fabulously expensive, but what does that matter? Everything and everyone is represented. Tokyo wants for nothing.

The city seethes with life at all times of every day, you need only visit Shibuya junction to see this. Or head to any subway station at 6pm. Businessmen fill the carriages like black and grey jellybeans in great jars, and yet the trains make their way seamlessly through eight lanes of traffic, with monorails above those, and metros buried underneath the ground below.

With five Hong Kong’s worth of people breathing the same air, there are naturally some vagrants lurking too. Like all the cities of the world, they’re drawn to the vast parks, to snooze on benches while ducks quack at their feet. If they’re regarded as untidy, though, they’re in the minority. People yelp and squeal about the neatness and order in Singapore, but Tokyo is every bit as clean, and even more functional. There are 35 million reasons for the Capital of the East not to work. But, somehow, it does.

How does it compare to other cities around the world? Make no mistake about it: this place is awesome. I really mean it.

Our time in Tokyo was made possible by:

Guide and fellow twitcher Eriko Bando, or Ellie as she likes to be called. She knows a vast amount about Tokyo and its feathered population (not just the ones in Akihabara) and it was a pleasure to spend time with her.

Mr Iwamura of Chiyoda Sushi who introduced us to the world of standing restaurants, and who showed us that it’s very dangerous to ever claim “this is the best sushi” because you never know what will be served next. If the price was ten times what it is (80 yen per piece) it’d still be a bargain. His branch being so close to the Tsukiji fish market no doubt helps how incredibly fresh it all tastes.

The luxurious Daiichi Hotel which surely gave us the world’s biggest bed to sleep in. We needed a GPS device just to find each other in that thing. They kindly put us up for two nights, meaning we could tuck into two of their superb breakfasts and genuinely get a chance to relax after enormous days walking around Tokyo’s infinite streets.

Everyone at Tentsu Saikan for giving us a great meal, but especially chef Hitosi Yamanobe. He is the latest person to baffle us with tales of his heroism in the aftermath of the tsunami. With the ground still shaking, he drove to Miyagi to start cooking for the survivors and fellow volunteers. For the last seven months, he’s being going back as often as he can. Being able to share a beer with him in his own restaurant was a goddamn privilege.

It’d be wrong to say that we’ve missed hamburgers over the last month, but even if we’d been eating them every day, the fare served up at Roti Roppongi would be outstanding. Mammoth portions, succulent meats and a wine list to die for, it’s no wonder it’s survived 10 years in this cut-throat part of town. Best of all, it’s not got a smaller sister restaurant, Pike Place, newly opened in, Shiba-Koen where punters can grab a coffee and watch the world go by the Tokyo Tower.

The Rihga Royal Hotel, into which we stumbled after another hard day’s walking. Tucked away in a lovely, quiet part of town, it’s got great views, enormous fluffy towels and chocolate cereal for breakfast. Chocolate cereal!

















この1ヶ月、ハンバーガーを食べたい!と願っていたわけではないけれど、例えそれを毎日食べ続けていたとしても、それでも食べたくなるほどここ六本木ロティのお食事は“別格”でした。肉汁たっぷりのお肉と、最高の品ぞろえのワインリスト。この飲食店の激戦区で10年もやはり続けている理由は明確です。そしてその姉妹店Pike Placeが最近芝公園にオープンしたそうです。東京タワーを見ながらコーヒーの飲める場所。私達のおすすめです♪



  1. Eric
    October 12, 2011

    It’s also a dangerous claim to say, this is your best post !

    Because :
    a) in this case, you just can’t compare a with b – a very moving post about Miyagi and an awe-loaded post about Tokyo…
    b) you never know what’s coming next !

    So, I won’t say it… and will just stick to: That’s a great one!

    Keep it up!


  2. Joe Lafferty
    October 12, 2011

    I think you’ve nailed it! Congratulations to you both.

  3. Robert
    October 13, 2011

    Yes this is Tokyo, a singularity with so many people in such a small place.

  4. James Mundy
    October 13, 2011

    Yeah, I am liking this too. Tokyo is an awesome city. Japan is an awesome country. I think people who don’t know about the place will get that back from your posts.
    Keep em coming…..and write some good stuff about Gunma please. Yoroshiku!

  5. Tee
    October 14, 2011

    Some amazing pictures, that really highlighted the story. Good job!

    Cheers, Tee

    Tee is Senior Editor of digital magazine about Costa Rica