Many would imagine Tokyo to be an expensive city to go for a vacation. They may be correct in their assumption, but what you get for your money may very well be worth its weight in gold, or yen in this case. What you are getting here are some of the world’s most innovative products, in design and in technology.
The latest gadgets & gizmos
For the tech-minded, there is always Akihabara, the mecca of nifty electronic gadgets. Here, you can find the latest coming out of Japan’s highly creative workshops. Long ago, the area had been left as a firebreak buffer to prevent fires from engulfing the city easily, and trees were grown around the area. The trees inspired the name of the area, which was originally known as “Akibonohara” — the Field of Autumn Leaves, but since shortened to its present name. Starting in the post World War II period, electronic equipment traders gathered in the vicinity of the railway station at Akihabara. The area is concentrated around Chuo Dori. Over 250 shops now ply their trade in this area today. Many are small, but some of the large electronics manufacturers also have their showrooms here, to capitalize on the established image of the area.
The popular products here used to be radio sets, but today, it is the mobile phone and other mobile communications devices that hold sway here. Internet-centric products have taken over, and with its advanced and commonly used wireless services such as DoCoMo, Japan is leading the way to a digital-anywhere lifestyle. When buying electronic devices here, be careful to check that the voltage of the equipment is compatible with the power current back home. Shopkeepers are familiar with foreign customers, and many have staff who speak English and other foreign languages. US Dollars and Euros are widely accepted, along with major credit cards.
Japan is a country that recognizes its youth for the role they play in the country’s future. Traditionally, Children’s Day has been a major occasion in the national calendar, with ceremonial streamers hung outside the homes of families with boys. While it is ironic that modern Japanese families have some of the lowest birth rates in the world, Japanese youth continue to set the trends for their peers globally, and especially in Eastern Asia. The best place to see this trend setting happen is around the Harajuku district.
In 1964, the Olympics brought an influx of foreigners and excitement to the city of Tokyo. The stadiums were built in Yoyogi Park, in the Harajuku area. People watching became interesting, as many famous people milled around the Games area. When the Games were over, people still hung around the area, to meet and to be seen. Over time, the youths developed a fashion consciousness that had to be satisfied, with outrageous, creative and outstanding clothes. Where better to set up shop than in the Harajuku area itself?
Fishy tales of Sushi in the making
The Harajuku fashion district proper extends along Omotesando and Meiji Dori Streets. The epicenter is at Takeshta Dori, just outside of the Harajuku Station. The streets are teeming with young fashionable wannabes. This is the ideal environment for designers both fashion and foreign. Local standouts like Jun Takahashi with his Under Cover and Nigo with his Bathing Ape label have broken out into the international scene from humble beginnings here. Designers have aimed for the whimsical and odd, in an effort to make their customers stand out from the ordinary crowd. Bathing Ape, for example, features camouflage patterns, and an Ape mascot who might turn up in the inner lining of the pockets in a pair of jeans.
Not too long ago, the fashion of the day was many-inches high platform shoes and darkened skin for the fashion conscious women. You can go to see the fashion of Harajuku today and wait for it to come to your home eventually. Yoyogi Park comes alive every Sunday with large scale public performances. The young literally put on their Sunday Best, as they define it. Yoyogi Park is a good place to catch your breath, and you can take in the breathtaking architecture of the stadium that launched Kenzo Tange into the world architectural scene.
No description of Tokyo shopping would be complete without a mention of Tsukiji Market. Arguably the world’s largest fish market, Tsukiji stands as a testament to the taste for seafood for which the Japanese are renowned. Here, the great fishing fleets of Japan bring a wide variety of seafood from all of the corners of the world. Buyers look for the highest quality and the very best when they come here. A single tuna fetched 6.38 million yen in 2003, or over US$ 56,000. That one fish could feed thousands of people, when served as sushi or sashimi in the restaurants of Tokyo. Fastidious chefs spend years training their apprentices in the art of making sushi, and one of the key skills that they need to pass on is the ability to select quality fish. The best produce fetch premium prices, which in turn make Tokyo restaurants among the priciest in the world.
You are not likely to take home a whole bluefin tuna, but you can take the fish in bite-sized helpings at one of the restaurants located nearby. The best time to visit the market would be between 5 and 9 in the morning. This is when the auctions take place. The atmosphere is busy, with carts and scooters full of fish rushing the produce to the stalls or to the trucks to move the products to the restaurants around town.