Text and photo: Toni Jerkovic
Since they are isolated on an island, the first encounter with Tokyo and Japan for most visitors will be the Narita airport, some sixty kilometers away from Tokyo. The very friendly immigration and customs staff will leave a nice first impression on behalf of the hosts. The second is that the transportation to the city is nice, that the trains and buses are punctual to a second, that everything is unbelievably clean. The cheapest way to get to the city is by train, for some 50 kuna, the buses are three times more expensive, and the taxi indeed has Japanese prices. The cab ride from Narita to Tokyo costs like some average plane ticket – around 1.500 kuna.
Tokyo is a city where the streets have no name. The addresses are more like descriptions, and a translation would be something like “that huge building located exactly in front of the station in the Western ogikubu”.
Along with mobile phones, the comic book reading culture is something you will notice even on a short ride to the center. A huge number of people kill their time with manga comics. First manga was drawn by the great Hokusai, and today’s manga covers all the aspects of life – there is manga about the right way to drink tea, treat the elderly, what is customary on a wedding, all the way to the most brutal sexual fantasies.
Brutality that can only be found in comic books is the complete opposite to reality. It is almost impossible to find an urban environment that is safer than Tokyo. Crime is virtually non-existent. Tokyo is statistically one of the safest, if not the safest city in the world. Even if you lose a wallet full of money, it’s highly likely that you will get not only the documents back, but also all of your money. All the world tourist guides particularly stress this fact – don’t get upset, return to the place where you left your things, and they will be there. At any time of day, you are safe in any part of the city.
One of the interesting characteristics of the city is that Tokyo is not a single city but a conglomerate of several cities; therefore, there is nothing that could be called a city center or downtown. Life is organized around the railway stations or subways, and this is where you will find heaps of stores, restaurants, bars, clubs, while the residential quarters are further from the stations.
Shinjuku is one of the best known stations to the Westerners. Many luxury hotels, futuristic buildings and weird architecture buildings can be found in this zone that is also home to the famous Kabukicho – center of night life, pachinko parlors, and several red light districts. Here you have the 2-chome, spookily empty during the day, but at night a very lively gay district with lots of bars, clubs and stores that occupy several city blocks.
Only a couple more minutes by train from Shinjuku, you reach Harajuku, a heaven for teenagers who like to look somewhat different from what the parents deem appropriate. Those who have more money and follow the world trends will take a walk to Omotesando Hills, a street full of international brand name stores.
Not far from Harajuku there is Shibuya, one of the globally known stations in Tokyo, partly thanks to Bill Murray and Scarlet Johansson, who roamed this part of the city, afraid and pale in the face in the movie Lost in translation. Shibuya is a place where you simply spend your money on fashion.
Beneath the station you will find the monument to Hachiku, a dog who came there every day for a decade after the death of his owner, a university professor, waiting for his friend to appear. The Japanese raised the monument to Hatchiku while he was still alive.
Like every metropolis that cares about its appearance and reputation, you can find some great eats in Tokyo. There are numerous types of restaurant. If you eat every meal in a different place every day, you would need more than two lifetimes to try every restaurant in Tokyo. Still, the main reason to eat in one of the gourmet capitals of the world is Japanese cuisine. It is known to be one of the highly esteemed, tastiest and healthiest, but in Japan, it is one of the cheapest. At any time of day, anywhere in town, you can have an extremely tasty meal that will not cost you more than 50 kuna! Something you would pay several hundred kuna in Zagreb, you can have in Tokyo for thirty or so. In Tokyo, you will eat cheaper than in Makarska or (heaven forbid) in Dubrovnik.
A good recommendation is to have a sushi breakfast in Tsukiji fish market. If you get out of bed early, you might see the tuna auction, even those coming from Croatia. Feel free to roam freely around almost 2.000 stands that sell everything you can find in the sea.
After a good breakfast, take a walk to Ginza, where the prices are astronomical so it is recommended you only watch. Is it worth it to pay 50 kuna for a single strawberry, or thousands of kuna for a watermelon, even if it square?
The thing you should not miss is a visit to Kabuki – traditional Japanese theater. It is possible to rent an audio guide that will explain the events on the stage in English. The Kabuki actors are a part of the family heirloom, and all the parts, both male and female are interpreted only by men.
In terms of prices, the Japan’s capital is no different from any European or prominent Croatian destination, and in some prices it is even better. You can spend a night in a hotel in Shinjukuse for around 150 kuna, eat for 30 kuna per meal, and the passes for several dozen chief museums and attraction, public transportation included, will cost no more than a hundred kuna if you purchase a Grutt Pass. Tokyo is just 12 hours away from Zagreb. Besides hundreds museums and temples, hundreds of thousands of snack bars of all kinds, numerous bars, you will be met by 35 million of smiling hosts.
If you can’t live without strukli or cevapcici, why not visit restaurant Dobro? If you’re lucky, along with Croatian food and wine, you might be in luck to watch a direct broadcast of the game by the Croatian national team. Don’t be confused that the majority of guests will be dressed in Croatian football jerseys, and that they share the disappointment with you despite the fact that they are Japanese. The Bilic Boys let them down good. The wine is very easily with Ozujsko beer. The disappointment is bound to pass in the next round of qualifications.