Crash Landing in Tokyo


The moment you first lay eyes on a city, it’s often a surreal experience.

Photo by Michael Johnstone

When you’re traveling through Asia, more often than not those first few minutes feel like a crash landing. A combustable mixture of adrenaline, fear, expectation, and anticipation. If there ever was a city that hit me like a freight train, it’s Tokyo. It is to be expected, I suppose, from the largest megacity on planet Earth. Getting your bearings is always hard in a new place, but here the chaos is often in full tilt, easily throwing the newcomer off balance.

Cocoon Tower in Shinjuku provides and excellent landmark for the bewildered traveller…
Photo by Michael Johnstone

Mercifully, I live in Seoul. Swarming masses of people are nothing new, it’s just that this time I have no idea where I am. Breathe. Breathe deeply. Take your time. 

It’s Shinjuku Station where I first emerge from the rail system, having arrived through Narita airport. Early morning. Shinjuku lies in the northeastern corner of Tokyo, and is a major hub of the city. Restaurants, shopping, night clubs, an infamous red-light district, and, to the east, the Park Hyatt hotel, of Lost in Translation fame (one of my favorite films of all time). It is also the home to the Tokyo Metropolitan Government, so the neighbourhoods range from quiet, almost European streets, to pounding crowds pouring through neon alleys.

Photo by Michael Johnstone

And then silence again. In only a few blocks in the right direction, you can find yourself move from pandemonium to a quiet residential neighbourhood where Japanese men sit and sip tea or coffee, where old women hang out their laundry, and where train crossings can stop traffic for more than 10 minutes. This is Tokyo. One of the great capitol cities of the world. And I smile to myself as I realize that this week, Tokyo belongs to me.

Or more accurately, I belong to Tokyo. Either one is fine with me.

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