I love that city. Blogged about it a few days ago already and thought another word or two today couldn’t hurt. The most typically “this feels like Japan” places I found are Shinjuku for the neon (although Ginza competes rather well as does Shibuya), Roppongi (for the seedier area with random weirdos, sumo wrestlers, and howlers trying to drag you into the sleezier bars), and Akihabara (perhaps the best nerd shopping area worldwide). Actually, I didn’t make it this time to Ginza, Shibuya or Akihabara but can vouch for each on previous trips. Let me not forget the monument to nerdiness in Shinjuku that is Yodabashi Camera. Not to be missed.
A few more notes on post-Fukushima Tokyo. There is a concentrated effort to reduce electricity because so many centrals are off-line (only 19 out of 54 are still operating today). You notice it in the train stations where about 1/2 the lights are off, in Narita where once the flights are all gone in Terminal 2 South, all the lights were shut, in the streets where, other than the splashy ones I mentioned earlier, some streetlights have been turned off…also, the colleagues I was with were careful when leaving the office to shut down lights and A/C where possible.
A small but quite interesting exception to this is the Tokyo vending machine. This ubiquitous little public servant serves up coffee, tea, coca cola, soup, fruit juice and cigarettes 24/7. They are literally installed every 5 or 6 meters on nearly every street and alley that you adventure down. I even saw one in the courtyard of a buddhist monastery near my hotel! A colleague mentioned – without irony I believe – that the power required for these combination refrigerator/ovens to operate outside year-round is the equivalent of one of those remaining 19 nukes. I was impressed – and appalled. Apparently, the public debate has started around how to reduce this particular dependency on electricity but since they are all privatized, who will pay the owners of the vending machines for losing the income from them – $53.38B in 1999 per the latest study (via wikipedia). So for the moment, these one-arm bandits will continue to flourish.
One other thing that almost goes without saying is the food. Udon, ramen, oodles of noodles but also sushi, sashimi, chirashi, maki…one fun thing to do after work is yakiniku which if I interpreted it correctly is basically all-you-can-drink beer for two hours while gobbling down meat slices that you cook on these korean stone stoves. Delicious and fun! Well, the cook your own meat seems to be the “yakiniku” and the all-you-can-drink beer was probably an after-work special that my colleagues found but it is a very fun thing to experience – although your head does take quite a pounding the next morning – particularly when you have to teach a class to 18 other hangover victims!