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Shibuya

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Shibuya was the only place in Tokyo that I felt slightly disappointed with. Initially anyway.

After paying our respects to wonder-dog Hachiko at the stations exit (if you don’t know the heart-wrenching story, it really is essential reading), we headed into the much hyped shopping district. Dominated by big brand, global chain stores like Gap, HMV and Tower, the place feels decidedly soulless compared to the style mash-up of Harajuku. Sure there’s the Bathing Ape shop, with it’s funky disco-bling interior and glass steps filled with trainers on conveyor belts, but the prices in there feel like someone is actually taking the piss. Same goes for the G-Star store – nice gear, but how much? Really? Most interestingly, you never see anyone actually buying fuck all in either of them.

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Super Modelers – Akihabara

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Look, I know what you come here for. Really. I mean, I’m sure you’ve been enjoying reading about the last few days exploring Tokyo’s ancient monuments and culture, but I know what you’re thinking.

Where the fuck is the anime and the toys, Tim?

Well, my friends, let me put you out of your misery.

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Torinoichi Bamboo Rake Festival

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While chilling in the gardens around Dembo-in in Asakusa, admiring the beautiful Koi under the bridges, I got chatting to an elderly local called Hideo. I think he just wanted to flex his pretty impressive English skills, but his eyes lit up when we told him we were staying in Shinjuku. Excitedly, he insisted that when we got back there, we head on down to the Hanazono Jinjya Shrine, as there was a one day, once a year Torinoichi Bamboo Rake Festival taking place, and it ended at midnight. He explained it was where these elaborate bamboo charms were sold that would bring good luck for the following year.

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Asakusa

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You could be forgiven, on first arriving at Asakusa on the Ginza subway line, that you’ve descended into Japanese tourist-trap hell. And to some extent you’d be right; it certainly seems to be the most touristy place I visited in Tokyo at least – as soon as you pass under the impressive Kaminari-mon (“Thunder Gate”) you’re greeted by a line of literally dozens of stalls selling everything from woodblock prints to Gundam model kits. Further down though, towards the Senso-ji temple, they give way to more traditional craft stalls, with giving you a unique chance to see artists in action. The Temple at Dembo-in, where Japan’s two leading religions Buddism and Shinto meet, and it’s surrounding gardens and pogodas are breathtaking, and a welcome break from the initial chaos.

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Kiddyland – Harajuku

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Kiddy Land is a pretty mainstream toy shop, and wouldn’t normally warrent a mention here – except that this is Tokyo, and mainstream means something completely different. Spanning five floors, of most interest are the anime and Ghibli sections. While the former caters for more kodomo and shonen level stuff, the latter is worth checking just for it’s huge selection and the over sized plush Totoro (pictured above) that sits as it’s centerpiece. Yours for just 676 quid. Worth a mention too are the hugely helpful (like everywhere so far in Tokyo) and mainly bilingual staff. Worth a visit, for sure.

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Harajuku – Shoppers’ paradise

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There’s not much that I can write about Tokyo’s central fashion node Harajuku that hasn’t been written already – certainly if you’ve ever read style magazine Fruits you’ll be familiar with the impact the area has had over global fashion in the past. There are those more cynical commentators who will tell you that the scene here is past it’s best, but take it from this reporter: there must still be something here to attract the visibly large number of western models and aging fashionistas sipping coffee and smoking French cigarettes while keeping their wrinkle-cream treated eyes on the outfits of the passing teenagers.

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Shinjuku Gyoen

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Awaking to a surprisingly sunny and very hot November day, we decided to take a short walk down to Shinjuku Gyoen. While I’d been impressed with the serenity of the gardens around the Imperial Palace a couple of days previously, nothing had prepared me for the vibe here. The park is split into three main sections modelled after traditional English, French and Japanese gardens, with the latter of course being the most interesting.

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More images from Tokyo

As you can probably imagine, I’ve been taking a lot of photos while I’ve been over here in Japan. Due to time constraints and the way WordPress works, I haven’t been able to share as much with you as I’d like, but I have been dumping literally hundreds of them on Facebook. So it suddenly occurred to me – this is the interweb, and the power of the hyperlink is strong.

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Shinjuku JR at rush hour

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I’m always surprised when people moan that no-one talks on the tube in London – I mean, exactly what the fuck are we meant to say? It’s pretty much the same on the Tokyo JR lines – no-ones chatting, too engrossed in their manga, their text messages, their DS and PSP games, the flat screens showing beauty product ads and video games trailers or studying their reflected hair in the dark windows. Pulling into stations is always announced by the usual bombardment of neon signs, followed by the sight of commuters waiting in perfect, orderly queues. Something not so familiar if you hail from London, then. Some might say it looks a bit robotic and regimented, but that’s hardly two words I’d use to describe Tokyo residents. Not fucking rude are three that spring to mind.

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