Exploring Japan

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Tokyo immediately assaults the senses, dragging my eyes and ears around flashing lights and bizarre scenes. People are everywhere. They crowd my vision and carefully sidestepping me as I stand engrossed by what’s going on. A giant billboard shows cartoon rats falling in love, 1000 people take the Shibuya pedestrian crossing every minute, and confused middled aged men head into a Manga cartoon porn shop. The city is ablaze with lights, a never-ending succession of skyscrapers blinking through the night at Tokyo continues 24 hours a day. In any other city I would be looking up at the boisterous skyline, but my eyes are fixed at ground level, fervently people watching.

A pair of Harajuku girls skip past me. They’re famous all over Japan for crossing the punk style with the infinite colours of a child’s paint palate. Through train windows everyone slumps into sleep, drooling over their smart phone as they rest from a 14 hour work day. Inside the Ranking Ranqueen shopping mall all types of experimental products are admired by customers; soap that makes your hair grow, lotions to make your head smaller and whiter, and a contraption that automatically chops your toe nails.

Tokyo isn’t a place enjoyed through museums or restaurants. It’s streets are its chief attraction, and walking around confused at the surrounding madness is where the city shows off. For Japanese people the sight of a trillion LED lights and electronic sounds is part of the daily walk home. But as a tourist you just laugh, shake your head, and walk around the corner for another incumbently bizarre sight. It’s intense, so after three days I take a bullet train back in time, to Japan’s ancient capital Kyoto.


Is this the same country? Standing in front of the elegant 1300 year old facade of the Kamigamo Shrine I’m wrangled by this question. Fourteen surviving buildings take me on a gentle tour of Japan’s imperial past. Roofs curve elegantly, overlooking lakes and green hillsides, or standing hidden amongst thick autumn forests. Inside each temple or shrine is artwork dating back a millennia; like huge ink paintings beautiful in their simplicity, and a row of 1000 Kannon armed statues which guard the Sanjusangen-do.

Inside the temples there is also silence. It’s a rare sensation in Japan, to appreciate tiny sounds and wallow in solitude. I’m not sure what I prefer. This gentle exploration of the past, or Tokyo’s manic expression of the future. But Japan has another past, one indelibly written into the history of the world: Hiroshima.


Only one building remains. Directly below where the world’s first atomic bomb exploded stands the battered memories of what happened in 1945. The museum is thought provoking and engrossing, happy for reconciliation but demanding a proper apology. It’s a place determined that the truth behind what happened will never be forgotten. Hiroshima has capitalised on the ruins. While most Japanese cities are hideously rushed and overcrowded, Hiroshima rebuilt itself with wide boulevards and an atmosphere acknowledging that work and time is not everything to life. There are no attractions, but in this city you can find the happy medium between Japan’s past and present. And after hitting both ends of the spectrum I’m relieved at finding something that has a semblance of normality.

About Stephen

Professional media consultant and writer.