Monday, 22 November 2010
If you are bored of Tokyo, kill yourself
When I am bored of Toronto, I've spent an hour out of the house; when I become bored of Tokyo, it's time to kill myself. I can get tired of the crowds and frustrated with the concrete, but that's not boredom. I can solve that by sitting on a train until I am hiking or in an onsen. That's a plane trip in Toronto. Even a Canadian train ride somewhere else boring is going to break down. Never mind what I think of the Toronto character (not much!), how can there be anything left to surprise me in a city of two-million? I lived outside of Tokyo for three years in the nineties, thought I knew it passably well, but only heard of an entire neighbourhood, Shimokitazawa, fifteen years after I left! I know there are a dozen left for me to find, or never find. Shimokita does not have one of the big temples, parks or skyscrapers that would get it into the Lonely Planet or JNTO, but it is one of the best places to take a visitor for that "Toto, I've a feeling we're not in Kansas any more" moments.
I love it when people from home ask me how big 'Tokyo's downtown' is, because the right answer is, "Which?" If I think of the number of 'downtowns' as active as Toronto's I start on the Yamanote-line: Ueno, Akihabara, Kanda, Yurakucho, Shimbashi, Shinagawa, Ebisu, Shibuya, Shinjuku, and Ikebukuro. Then I'd stray from that line: Ochanomizu, Asakusa, Akasaka, Kichijoji, Saitama-City, Yokohama, and Chiba/Funabashi. That's seventeen! I have forgotten some of your favourites. A few of these are not Japanese favourites, but all of them compare well to Toronto! I also love scaring visitors off of the train system. They presume there are train-stuffers all day at every station (just morning and last-train at some), so I like to reinforce the fear with the Kanto-wide train map, in Japanese.
There may be another city that has as many cool neighbourhoods, as many kinds of restaurants, as comprehensive the transit, as much opportunity for an English speaker, the same proximity to mountain and surf, as many foreign destinations as close at hand, as curious a culture as Japan's, as cosmopolitan the mixture of its foreign residents... In fact, I can't think of that city, and I wouldn't speak its language to boot. I'd be curious to know of other cities. I won't accept Vancouver as an answer, as I am looking for a language other than English (Vancouver is not entirely Cantonese, yet), I can't handle more than a month of rainy-season, the opportunities are not there, and it can’t be termed a ‘metropolis’. You need to make more than in Toronto or Tokyo to secure decent housing in Vancouver, with much fewer employment opportunities. In Vancouver, I'd live on a boat.