#3 Towering Ambitions – Tokyo, Japan

I must be pretty lucky to be able to spend my 21st birthday in Tokyo. My first official day of adulthood and I was already doing something that I would be really proud of myself when I looked back in a decade or two. I started out the day a little exhausted, but hopeful and feeling blessed. It was a beautiful day to start exploring the city.

Street scene in Shinjuku

Shinjuku (新宿) is a visual explosion of colours. The world’s busiest metro station was located here with tons of restaurants, bars, retail stores, hotels and skyscraping government buildings dotting the surrounding area. I felt like I was in the centre of the universe. Lost in Translation, here I come!

The city is huuuuuge. I could feel the throbbing heartbeat of Tokyo right where I stood. I angled my neck and marvelled at the multi-coloured advertising banners with Japanese characters splashed across in massive cartoonish characters across gray, steel-and-glass facades of shopping malls. Since neither my bf nor I were fans of planning our routes to death (i.e. plotting everything on a Google Map and following it to a T), we decided to wander around and find a few of the interesting places that we read about and try not to get sucked into the lovely patisseries and cutesy shops that lined every street.

Perhaps it was the time of the day, but Kabuki-cho wasn’t the most exciting place to be in at 3PM; a few wild-haired teenagers stood at the curb smoking thin cigarettes and loitered around, didn’t want to wander in any further as there didn’t seem to be much action going on… Figured the place only comes alive at night for all the reasons we didn’t want to know about, since it is a red-light district and all. Come to think of it, we should have come around here in the evening, but we never did. Oh well, I can save this for the next time I come around, when I’m older and won’t be mistaken for what I’m not…

School children on a field excursion…so kawaii! (near Shinjuku Gyoen)

We began hunting for the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building, where we could access the Observatory Deck (45th floor) for free (!) to enjoy a good day view of the entire city from the top. I thought we could recognise the building since it should be the “tallest” to have a good vantage point — I thought WRONG. Every damn building in Tokyo is so tall, one obscures another from view, especially we are just mere mortals standing on the sidewalk. So better to consult a map…and Tokyo’s street maps (the kind erected on the sidewalk at regular intervals) are not the easiest to decipher, but we managed… Stumbled upon the Shinjuku Gyoen but refused to walk through a huge park of nothing to see but pretty pavillions and well-manicured lawns. Sorry, we’ll pass for this one. (A side-effect of post-Kyoto visiting.)

It’s a totally different world here altogether. Take out the technicolor billboards and humongous ads and add 50 storeys to the buildings from the main shopping area in Shinjuku, and you have the CBD. Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building is lauded to be the symbol of Shinjuku. We entered through the wide glass doors, and felt a little embarrassed to be dressed down for such a formal looking building in such a formal looking district where most people (Japanese) were donning business suits and carrying briefcases. But we were met by fellow tourists who looked equally ridiculous (or worse, especially the Americans in their trainers and visors), and instantly we didn’t feel as bad. The North Observatory was closed on that day so we went to the South Observatory instead. They essentially the same except the view is different. The two Observatories (located in the same building) open on different days so check before going if you’re particular about which one you want to visit.

There it is, very faint, but still unmistakable! Fuji-san! :)

The view was priceless. (Well, admission was free, too.) I could spy Mount Fuji! Easily the highlight of the day! The peak could barely be seen; it peeked out faintly from behind the veil of marbled clouds in the sky, but it was there. I could barely contain the excitement — I’m a fan of tall buildings and looking at the city from the top — didn’t squeal in case the steel-faced security guards throw me off out of the building. :)

The day was coming to an end and I was hungry for dinner… Time to head out to Roppongi.
That’s all for Shinjuku!

Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building (in Japanese)


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