(The first appearance of this post was on iaponia.gr)
The area around the subway station of Azabu-Juban brings together two of the faces of Tokyo past: futurism and shitamachi.
In 1971 Andrei Tarkovsky shot the science fiction classic “Solaris”. In an evocative sequence the hero is driven through the streets of a city before he leaves for his trip to space, and a discreet feel of futuristic life is achieved. The sequence is called “City of the future” and was shot in Tokyo with no special effects.
One of the filming locations was the junction at Azabu-Juban.
Of course today it’s not only the bridge but also the buildings from somewhere around the ‘70s.
At the same time, all you have to do to find one of the once omnipresent streams is to take a turn a couple of blocks further away…
…and, in doing so, pass the invisible border towards a tiny shitamachi neighborhood.
Shitamachi was the downtown aesthetic in the beginning of the 20th century, the sort of passage from Edo to Tokyo.
The archipelago of the “city of the future” still has islets of small streets with wooden buildings, flower pots on tarmac and residents that somehow look as if they always belong there.
Anyone trying to understand the picture formed by the puzzle called Tokyo will get a few additional pieces by making a stop at Azabu-Juban.
Two years ago these days … this traveller was in the middle of her only massive cultural shock ever.
Landed on Tokyo to spend two months and overwhelmed by the amount and totality of design, beauty and purpose everywhere around; within a week I lost weight, got a bunch of white hair and wasn’t sleeping well; it took me days to simply start catching the subway and go sightseeing.
Don’t get this wrong: the feeling was ecstasy. The whole time. Continuously. I was under constant bombardment by high standards.
A few photos of the mind-blowing flat and view. It was warm and fuzzy, it had a bathroom unit and a kitchen unit, and the elevated metropolitan express highway was passing only a few meters from the third-floor balcony. (At nights I was feeling that some mythical golden river kept streaming by.)
To the dismay of lazy western reporters, not all Tokyo subway photos involve tormented employees napping on the doors’ glass. (Although, I’ll give it to them, this is an overground line.)
The Carrot Tower in Setagaya is where Pokemon come from. The 22nd floor houses Game Freak headquarters.
While the 26th floor boasts a public sunset viewing lounge.
The top tip is: just go. It won’t be the futuristic Babylon that you expected but more the projection of the 80s which dreamt of it, and it will be unparalleled (also might not stay this way forever).
Walking down some well-documented neighborhoods -Shibuya, Akihabara, Ikebukuro, Shinjuku and the like- is enough to dose you on vertical neon, food stalls, high fashion, sararimen, shrines, crazy trinkets, nylon umbrellas. Assuming you’ll evening stroll through one or two of those, here are a few extra, focused, things to look up or under for.
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Alleys jammed with tiny izakayas, real sararimen nests.
Celebrated ones: Piss alley in Shinjuku, Nonbei in Shibuya, around and under the railway bridge at Shimbashi.
The artificial islands and the bay
Where you realize that everything solid in your field of vision is manmade.
Radio Center electronics mall
Radio Center is a sensation. A small passage close to Akihabara metro station (35.698316, 139.771861). And an old, half-used, three-storied narrow building next to it. Grab it while you still can.
Read on for artificial skies, vanishing rivers and more bittersweet fluff.
I remember days spent in constant awe of beauty,
now with memories of people that I don’t know.
I remember the afternoon pulse through a whole city — the corners of countless small izakaya.