Tokyo is only recently becoming a city that people want to visit. The Japanese have been known as sceptical towards outsiders/foreigners: the gaijin, to say the least. The entire country was isolated from the world from 1639 to 1853. This isolationist foreign policy was called Sakoku. And curiously, this is the period when Japan developed the most. Not only Tokyo (known as Edo back then) underwent a massive growth, but also the most iconic parts of Japanese culture came to existence. The samurai, bonsai trees, tea ceremonies, roads, school, erotica, poetry, and sumo, even the kabuki theatre: all that happened because of the Sakoku. Maybe globalization isn’t the way to go? Maybe telling the Christians to piss off with their nonsense is the catalyst that the modern civilization needs? Fast forward a couple of years, two World Wars, atomic bombs, a few dozen earthquakes, and Japan can finally be considered a part of the modern world.
Anime had an enormous role in introducing Tokyo and Nippon culture to the western civilization; entire generations grew up watching Dragon Ball, Sailor Moon or actors in rubber Godzilla costumes. People became fascinated by tales of the samurai and shinobi warriors but also by tales of everyday life masterfully portrayed by talented artists. Anime as a medium covers all the possible genres even for the more mature audiences. Shows such as Devilman Crybaby and Aggretsuko have made their way into the mainstream via Netflix, and touch on important topics such as racial tolerance and the hell of working a desk job. The Ghibli Museum (http://www.ghibli-museum.jp/) at 1 Chome-1-83 Shimorenjaku is a pilgrimage site for every aficionado of Japanese animation. Let’s not pretend that anime is the only reason why people are obsessing over Japan. In my opinion, there are two important factors, both clearly noticeable when exploring Tokyo.
The first one is that they’re firmly rooted in tradition. Shinto shrines are everywhere, people might not admit it but they still light incense while passing by. According to that ancient religion, gods (kami) live in those shrines and surrounding areas, and even the smallest act of worship brings good luck. Buddhist temples such as the iconic Sensō-ji, the oldest in Tokyo, still attract thousands of tourists and locals. Temple grounds host the Sanja Matsuri, one of the most important Shinto festivals, which takes place towards the end of spring season. It’s a life-changing experience, seeing people dancing in kimonos, chanting, playing on instruments leaves an everlasting impression. The main event is focused around carrying three miniature shrines (mikoshi), infused with kami by a priest. According to the legend, three fishermen found a golden statue of Buddha in the river and carried it to the same exact spot where Sensō-ji stands to this day. Nakamise-dōri is a street that leads to the temple; there are shops, food stands and various festival goodies available during the celebrations.
Some of the must-try snacks include taiyaki (a fish-shaped pastry), mochi cakes and dango. Most of the stuff is made from rice and filled some kind of a sweet bean paste. Onsen, hot spring resorts, are another iconic symbol of Japan. Odaiba Ōedo-onsen-monogatari is a very famous one, located in Tokyo and is an amazing place to spend an entire day in. It’s more of a theme park than a bathhouse; there are bars and restaurants, everything feels very old school and organic. I would plan a visit during the cherry tree blooming season in the middle of April. Sitting around an outdoor bath during late evening hours with pink petals falling down all around you is something worth traveling for.
The second thing that I consider instrumental to the sudden popularity of Japan is the wacky culture of Tokyo’s younger generations. It seems as if they are just starting to reinvent themselves and as much as we – the gaijin – are obsessed with them; the more they are even fascinated by us. Things that we consider weird are completely normal, even sought after in Tokyo. Beautiful women are desperately trying to look European. They dye their hair, wear blue contact lenses and ruin their perfect, pale complexion with spray tanning in order to express themselves. Waitresses dressed up as French maids are working in maid cafés that are popping up everywhere. People are buying used underwear from vending machines called burusera and they have entire expos dedicated to sex toys and sex robots where they can literally sample the wares. I have nothing against artificial vaginas but it seems they’re going about that sexual revolution from a completely wrong angle. The hentai anime and stuff portrayed in it such as lolicon (petite, possibly underage girl fetish), imoutos (younger sister incest fetish) and a plethora of other uncommon preferences is what creeps the western audience out. That’s also why we all love Japan so much.