Memories of Tokyo

| June 15, 2012

Last time I was here, it was a blurry mist. I don’t have much memory about it, just a good feeling when I think about it. It was an organized tour from a good client who had a very adventurist and crazy lifestyle. I just had to sit back and take it. This time, would be different, I was on my own and had Tokyo to explore manually. Never thought I was going back until my friend arranged everything for me, flight and accommodations. All I had to do was get myself to the airport and figure things out when I get there. The flight was at night, a Thai Airways A 330. After a couple of drinks offered by the attentive airhostess, the same feeling last time started. I reminded myself not to get carried away right now but how could I say no to these nice people. The plane arrived at Narita airport in the morning. My journey began with a hectic train ride, dragging my luggage through the airport and train station. Last time I didn’t remember an experience of a train ride. It was a shock to see how complex and big the train system here is. It looked 50 times more than what it is in Bangkok. Most of the sign was in Japanese. I didn’t know Japanese, but I made it to the hotel; the train ride wasn’t that bad. Actually it was pretty convenient if you understand how to read the train map. I would probably rent a car if I was in America, but that’s America. The train is a better choice here.


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After checking in at the Hilton Tokyo, the first thing was to get some lunch. There were many restaurants to choose from but all the sign and menu was in Japanese. I finally stop by a place call Fuji Soba; I wouldn’t know the name if someone hadn’t told me. The menu is not in the form of paper or booklet but it was a coin machine. Luckily it had photos with a Japanese description and number indicating the price. Once you put money and press a button, you get a ticket which you bring to the counter, so the chef can prepare the food. I ordered a cold soba with thin slices of pork and poached egg. It was good and cost about 500 yen. The only thing I can complain about was, it was cold, I would prefer hot soup but you can’t tell from a photo what is hot or cold.

I found out later if the sign of that dish is on a blue background it is cold, if it is on a red back ground it is hot. This applies to beverage machines as well. I also discovered there is a Fuji soba everywhere it’s like a fast food chain. The coin machine concept is like a norm with most fast food restaurant here. It’s like a social etiquette the customers keep clean. One other thing is fast food restaurants here do not provide napkins everyone is considered to have a handkerchief so no need for the mess. It is efficient and an easy way to manage a small restaurant.

I stayed in the Shinjuku area which had many things to do and see in walking distance. It was during May the weather was averaging about 20 degrees Celsius, it was also pretty windy. So it was quite pleasant to walk around even though it was for many kilometers. The city was very clean and neat. This includes how people dress and behave. Most of the men wore suites; woman had more diversity on how they dress. Many of the building looked very cool with unique designs. Beautiful landscape with mature trees was all around. You can see interesting sculptures everywhere. The trees looked greener than the ones in Bangkok. I guess there was not as much dust.

Nightlife in Shinjuku, is pretty diverse, from small 5 seaters yakitori bar in small alleys to roof top restaurants in 5 star hotels. The red light district of Kabukicho is filled with all types of restaurants, pachinko parlors, karaoke clubs, DVD rooms, bars, strip clubs, touch bars, gentlemen’s club, etc. Restaurants occupy lower floors but all other establishments are hidden. It could be access through narrow stairways and small elevator. It’s impossible for a first timer to know where to go and how to get there, for example; a strip club, without being able to read Japanese even with a photo it’s useless.

So they have touts (sales representative) to guide you to a place you prefer. I’m sure tourist even locals get ripped off by touts. The Japanese touts seemed to be more polite than the Nigerians which sometimes will drag you to see their place. After a couple of suntory and asahi my memory started to fade. I woke up the next day in an unfamiliar place. It was a jungle theme interior. Walking back to the hotel, I checked if I lost anything, nothing but 13,000 yen but it was rewarded with a good feeling.

After spending a couple of days in Shinjuku, I moved to another city. I thought Shinjuku was neat and clean; Chiyoda is even more. The city seemed more luxurious. There are shops at almost every first floor of the all the buildings, especially in the Marunouchi area. If I hadn’t been here, I wouldn’t be able to imagine how many there are. Some buildings are dedicated for just shopping and dining from basement to 8th floor. Restaurants are everywhere. With so many of them, I would think many of them would be empty, but by the looks most of them are doing good business. Tokyo is a big city, one of the most densely populated cities in the world. With population density of 14,422 per square km, that means 14 people per square meters. The square meters are averaged with a large area of parks which makes it even more densely populated. With limited land still there are very nice parks and gardens.

Another example of how dense it is, are the train stations. Each stations are hubs of many lines spread throughout the city. There are so many of them. Per train there are about 10 cars. During rush hours it could be very packed. I’ve seen in videos how they push people in so everyone fits in the train. But now, it seemed not as packed as Bangkok BTS. I guess they manage to provide enough cars per train and each line comes frequent enough.

I’m a big fan of Japanese food, that’s one of the reasons coming here. Tokyo is one of the best food capitols of the world. Almost everything I had was good even small fast food shops which are what I prefer for quick lunches.  My favorite are chirashi sushi shops, there’s so many varieties of topping. A bowl with toppings of uni, tuna, salmon roe would cost just under 1,000 yen. A soba would be a bit cheaper but not that much. In Bangkok sashimi or sushi would be much more expensive than a soba or katsudon, but here there’s not much difference.

During the couple of days here I did interact with the people in many different degrees. Polite and nice, even strangers; asking for directions is something I don’t hesitate to do. I always get a helpful suggestion. The people here are the main element of what makes Tokyo today. It’s all about team work. Everyone does their job, work hard, honest and doesn’t take advantage of other people. Just simple etiquettes like queuing and not littering. Memories fades but feelings of that trip reminded how good it was.

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About the Author:

Current: Editor of, Managing Director at dp-Studio Co. Ltd. Past: Lecturer, Instructor at School of Architecture King Mongkut University of Technology, Architect at RNL Architect, Architect at Roth Sheppard Architects Education: School of Architecture Chulalongkorn University Bangkok Thailand (B.Arch) School of Architecture University of Arizona USA - School of Architecture University of Colorado, Denver USA (M. Arch)
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