Tokyo, the Urban Shangri-La
03 May 2015
The toilet seat cover in my hotel bathroom lifted by itself and the seat was warm as I sat down. There were probably over 10 buttons I could select from and it was probably the most high tech toilet I had ever used. There is even a TV by the bathroom sink! Yes, welcome to Japan, the country of tech and culture.
Checking into Shangri-la Tokyo Hotel, conveniently situated beside the historic Tokyo station, I felt like I was in an art gallery. The hotel contains some 2,000 pieces of art, inspired by the Chinese poet Bai Juyi from the Tang Dynasty. The Shangri-la Tokyo Hotel’s reputation precedes it. Its grandeur was magnificent, its many Czech-made chandeliers were mesmerizing and the elevators were definitely the “poshest” in town. Other than the chandeliers, I also observed the stunning flower arrangements all over the hotel premise. This really sets the mood for a romantic evening! We got a room facing the Tokyo Sky Tree and it was therapeutic just looking at the lights of the Tower.
The next morning, we woke up at 3am to visit the world’s largest fish market - Tsukiji Fish Market. We managed to make it for the tuna auction to witness the hustle and bustle inside this wholesale seafood market. It’s amazing that everyone looked so awake in the wee hours of the morning. Of course, we could not leave the fish market without savouring the sashimi and seafood. Reading the many reviews that raved about the restaurant Sushi Dai, we decided to line up for it despite the long queues. Halfway during our meal, one of the helpers came in with a live ika (squid) in his hands, asking the chef if this was the one they were going to serve to the customer. That totally blew our mind. Sushi Dai just gave a whole new meaning to fresh!
Next, we decided to visit Senso-ji, an ancient Buddhist temple dating back to the 7th century. To indulge in the mood, we decided to rent a kimono to walk around this historical site. At the temple, we saw a metal container with many fortune sticks. I shook it, a stick came out and we found the corresponding drawer to my fortune. To my pleasure, it’s good fortune! However, my husband was less fortunate and selected a bad fortune, so he tied it to the rod to leave the bad luck behind.
What strikes me the most about Tokyo is the juxtaposition of the old, contemporary and the sacred. After Senso-ji, we decided to experience being young again by shopping around the Harajuku District. We even spotted a Harajuku girl dressed up as an anime character walking down Takeshita Dori, a narrow laneway filled with independent boutiques and hip cafes, selling random kawaii items like socks, wallets and clothes. No one visits Harajuku without having tasted the legendary Japanese crepes. You can have your crepe with ice-cream, fruits, fresh cream and even a slice of cheesecake altogether! We are definitely growing fat on this trip!
As the sky darkened and Tokyo’s twinkling lights decorated the city, we decided to do some people watching from the second-storey window of the Starbucks in Tsutaya Building – to observe the famous intersection outside Shibuya station. The lights for the vehicles at this junction turned red at the same time and the traffic stopped completely for pedestrians to surge from all directions.
After about 10 traffic light changes, we went from the contemporary Starbucks coffee and stepped back in time to drink cold beers in a Showa-era bar – Hanbey. Hanbey was a perfect place to rest from the hot summer. Its interior was adorned with old posters, old consumer products, old metal tins and old advertising plates with many Showa-era toys. It was a rather entertaining place to relax after an entire day of sightseeing, imagining how life was like decades ago as the once-famous songs filled the air.
On the day of our departure from Shangri-la, two hotel staff actually walked us all the way to the train platform and bid us goodbye, with a 90 degrees bow, only after we were settled comfortably on our seats! Tokyo is indeed a city that never fails to amaze me at every corner. And once we have tasted it, it leaves us wanting more. We will be back to this urban Shangri-la!