Welcome to Shinjuku - Tokyo pt. 1

Nine stories up, behind the thick glass of a hotel window, you’d think there would be a bit of quiet from this crazy city; but no. There’s a constant rhythm of sirens and horns from the streets below, almost as if they’re the sustained, thumping heartbeat of Tokyo.

It simply does not feel real.

The second you’re off the plane you’re thrust into a bustling, fast paced world mixed with an intriguing balance of tradition and innovation. Foreign characters and words fill every blank space, and every space filled with someone who clearly needs to be somewhere yesterday. We thought the airport was crazy…

Then came the train.

You’ve heard about Tokyo’s metro trains surely… Now stick three foreigners who have been there five seconds, with three big suitcases, and you might start to get an idea of what it was like.

The whole trip we were wide eyed, taking in every detail and piece of information our senses would allow. Neon signs and car lights flashed past the windows as the train hurdled bridge after bridge. Our bewilderment must’ve been obvious, because an expat down the carriage locked eyes with me and offered a smile. A smile that I’m still unsure if it was meant to comfort or if he was saying “Good luck”. Perhaps getting off the train and onto the street would give some sensory relief?

I shouldn’t have given myself the luxury to think so.

Welcome to Shijnjuku.

From the first glimpses out the plane window, right up to this point, there’d be only one way to describe the experience thus far: Sensory Overload. Stepping into the street outside Shin-Okubo Station was like walking into the set of a movie… Thousands of lights buzzing as far as the eye could see, all reflecting off of the obsidian streets, shiny and wet from the persistent drizzle. The roar of the Metro trains overhead; strange smells of food, wafting up stranger still stairs that seemed to disappear down into some other underground dimension. It just didn’t feel real. You hear stories and see videos and photos - yet nothing can prepare you for simply how alive this place is.

Your entire peripheral vision is assaulted by colour and lights. Your aural senses are thrown by electronic beeps and whistles from every direction. Yet strangely enough, the feeling of rain gently falling on our faces seemed to be the only sense of familiarity… that is until we smelt food. If there’s one sense more primordial than any, its a human’s need to feed.

That was enough to kick us into gear.

Get to the hotel, dump the bags, and find our first meal.

Shop after shop, neon sign after neon sign… we weren’t quite sure what to pick, so we just took a punt and wandered up some pretty looking set of wooden stairs, and sat at something that wasn’t so much a table, but rather an enormous slab; a clear cut-section of a tree no less than 200 years old. It turned out we’d somehow walked into what was surely one of the few indoor smoking Korean barbeque restaurants around… but that hardly mattered. After several quick hand gestures and an absolute barrage of sound that I can only assume were words, the waiter left us to digest what just happened, and to figure out what the hell we were meant to do next… the Japanese menu wasn’t much help either.

After wondering why there was a doorbell sound every few seconds, the waiter showed up. Apparently the button on the table we’d been playing with is the button to call for service… and the reason for all the doorbell sounds…

No matter. We pointed at some pictures, food magically arrived, got eaten, and we were off. Time to wander the streets! Wait what’s that? A kebab for 400¥? Done.
Alright time to wander the streets.

Lights, sounds, smells. Again, again, again. Countless busy streets, and countless tiny alleyways all equally as busy as the main roads.

Taxis with automatic doors, cyclists with no helmets riding on the wrong side of the road, giant glowing buildings dedicated to some strange sexualized iteration of slot machines… not a single thing was even remotely similar to the country we called home a mere 24 hours earlier.

At least for now, the golden beaches and crashing waves at my doorstep were so far and beyond. The soft glow of my phone screen the only comforting sense of familiarity… yet even that, I put aside and told myself, “this is why you’re here.”

3 friends, 16 days. One incredible trip.

This post marks merely the first night of many in a country full of wonder. Stay tuned for more!

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