Impressions from Tokyo

Sorry for the quiet, but I have just returned from a week of vacation in Tokyo, Japan.

I was staying at a hotel just next to Shibuya Station, which is one of the busiest stations in Tokyo, and which is surrounded by the Shibuya District, which is a shopping district. I was lucky enough to get a room on the 22nd floor, so I had a great view of the area.

View from hotel room on 22nd floor

Visible skyline from hotel room

The picture of the skyline is taken from the hotel room, and is towards the North.

This was one thing that surprised me about Tokyo – the skyscrapers were spread all around the city, and not just located in the city center, as you see most other places.

Shibuya was an extremely busy area, especially next to the station, but also next to popular shops, such as 109 (which is fairly close to the station though). The amount of people going in and out of the station at peak hours was amazing, and it was a good place to people watch, if you could stand the crowds.

Apart from spending time in the area around the hotel, I also went out and saw the Harajuku District. This was a bit of an disappointment to me, as I had hoped to see some of the teens dressed up in the well known Harajuku style, but unfortunately, it was fairly limited what I saw of that.  Perhaps due to the fairly cold weather.

On the other hand, I was lucky enough to be in Tokyo at the same time as the cherry trees started to bloom. If you don’t know, that is a very big deal, and leads to people going to the part, and get drunk on beer and sake. I visited a park fairly early on the day (around noon) last Sunday, and people was only getting ready to celebrate, but I think my pictures show the scale of it.

Cherry trees 7 Cherry trees 5 Cherry trees 4 Cherry trees 3 Cherry trees 2 Cherry trees blossoming

It was interesting to note how the only place people were sitting was underneath the cherry trees – all the other spots were ignored.

And at the end, a few notes/comments from my visit.

First of all – Vendor machines were everywhere. It was incredible – even on back streets with no shops or anything, you’d be sure to come across a vendor machine selling cokes and/or ice coffee. Surprisingly, there weren’t snack vendor machines around, only machines selling drinks.

Vendor machine in side street
Row of vendor machines

Language barriers became a problem in unexpected ways. I knew that Japanese are not necessarily good at speaking English, and I was prepared for this. What I had thought of, but underestimated, was how hard it is to find your way when you don’t even read the letters. What I hadn’t thought of, and which came as a great surprise to me, was that it might making going to the toilet complicated – some Japanese toilets are rather advanced, and it was hard to figure out how to do simple tasks, such as flushing the toilet, when you can’t read the letters and haven’t ever seen a similar panel.

I found the lack of Asian models on billboards rather disturbing. If it was a Japanese product, the models were Japanese, but there were a lot of billboards with European products (especially clothes brands), and none of them used Asian models.

And finally – Shibuya at night looks like something taken out of Blade Runner.

Shibuya at night


  1. says

    This was one thing that surprised me about Tokyo – the skyscrapers were spread all around the city

    There are no pre-WWII skyscrapers in the world – except in the US.

  2. Alan Wilson says

    My take on Tokyo is that it is a conurbation – the various district centres (Ueno, Tokyo, Shibuya etc) are all connected by the circular JR Yamanote line so there isn’t really a “centre” unless you count the emperor’s palace and Marunouchi as the heart of the city.

    (tried to connect with google, but the links were not working)

  3. sonofrojblake says

    Shibuya at night looks like something taken out of Blade Runner

    In fairness, it did look more or less like that in 1980, which means that Blade Runner was trying to make L.A.’s future look like Tokyo’s “present”.

    My two main observations of Tokyo were:
    1. I’m 183cm and 83kg, and walking round Tokyo and Chiba I was the tallest, fattest man I saw for seven days.
    2. the most racially homogenous place I’ve ever been – I didn’t notice at first, but as soon as I did, the complete absence of any visible racial diversity in somewhere so incredibly crowded was… odd. I saw more racial diversity going to the pub and post office in the village in England where I live (population about 2,500) this weekend than I saw in Tokyo in a week.

    Re: Pre-WW2 skyscrapers – it’s not even the US. Pre-WW2, there were hardly any outside just two cities – Chicago and NYC. What amazes me about Tokyo is that they build so high somewhere so… seismic.
    (I once caught the second half of a fascinating radio documentary about an historic building – the very first ever iron-framed building anywhere, technical ancestor of all skyscrapers. Being an engineering geek, I resolved to make a special trip to visit this building, wherever it may be, distance, time and expense no object – I just needed them to say its name or location. At the end of the doc, they repeated the name of the building… and it turned out that, from my house, travelling time to it could be as much as 45 minutes… if I walked.)

  4. Johnny Vector says

    At least around Tokyo all the street and transit signs are also in Roman letters. That helps a lot. It’s a lot harder out in the boondocks. The highway signs still have names in romaji as well as kanji, but beyond that you’re pretty much out of luck. There’s still a vending machine on every street corner though.

    If you can spend a couple weeks with a flash card program (I like StickyStudy) learning the two phonetic alphabets, that helps. In fact if you know just the katakana, and a few words like ebi (shrimp), ika (squid), etc, you can read almost any menu (again, in the metropolitan areas; rural places not so much). For some reason the description of each selection is almost always in katakana.

  5. usagichan says


    The skyscrapers are all built on massive dampers to counter the seismic threat (I was on the 21st floor when the Tohoku quake hit back in 2011 and the building was swaying pretty dramatically for about an hour afterwards). I saw the Dampers when they were building Toronomon Hills Tower and they were both massive and suitably awesome.

    I agree that there is no Centre of Tokyo. Probably the whole of the 23 wards would count as Central Tokyo (as opposed to the “Cities” that surround them). In fact there is pretty much uninterupted city down to Yokohama in the South and up to Utsonomiya in the North. What I like is the unique character each area has – Not a big fan of Shibuya, but I can understand the attraction. I quite like Ueno (zoo for the children, Art Galleries/ Science Museum for all of us, Park for relaxing in and there is always Ame-Yoko for the street market experience). So many places here that I like – from small shrines (Atago-Yama shrine in Toronamon is amazing at this time of year), to massive entertainment complexes (O-Daiba seems to do those well).

    Kristjan, the toilets confused me too when I first came here… As did taking a bath (never never wash yourself inside the bath – you only get into the bath when you are spotlessly clean!)
    Glad you enjoyed the trip…