Mon, Feb 11, 2013 - Page 12 News List

Yomping through the drizzle

Taking the scenic route on foot is an ideal way to explore Tokyo’s strange mixture of modernity and tradition

By Marcel Theroux  /  The Guardian, TOKYO

Kichijoji, where I spent the third night of my walk, is only 15km from Tokyo and considered the city’s most hip and desirable suburb. It’s Tokyo’s Williamsburg, or Notting Hill. It has little bars and vintage clothing shops, and, best of all, beautiful Inokashira Park, from where I set off in the morning and followed the course of the river Kanda all the way into the city.

This was the best walking yet. The sun was bright, the maples and gingko trees red and gold in the light, and the river was full of big, fat carp. There were residential houses on both sides of the river. Just a few hours from my final destination, I felt like I’d found space and tranquility. From here, I emerged into the city proper, close to the big towers of Shinjuku, Tokyo’s administrative center.

After days of steady walking, I was unprepared for the impact of the big city: its chic, black-suited crowds, its towering neon escarpments. Tokyo has a purposefulness and an energy that resembles Manhattan’s, but on an even bigger scale. I gawped at the Blade-Runner world of Akihabara, and went into an eerie maid cafe. Inside, the colors were bright, like the set of a children’s television program, where desexualized waitresses in French maid outfits speak in put-on squeaky voices.

At Tsukiji, Tokyo’s awe-inspiring fish market, I ate sushi and marveled at the produce: tuna fish the size and shape of human torsos, every kind of crustacean, bivalve, mollusk and invertebrate that this seafood-crazy nation eats.

At Nihonbashi, the bridge where the five arterial roads of medieval Japan meet, I officially concluded my walk. The bridge was built in 1911 and seems almost ancient in modern Tokyo. But the city’s lack of sentimentality about the past is evident from the way the bridge’s clean lines are boxed in by a concrete flyover.

There was something energizing and intoxicating about being in the city, but I missed that sense of an older, more timeless Japan. And then, finally, from the 30th floor of my hotel, I rested my weary feet and looked back across the teeming city to the green slope of Mount Takao. Behind it hovered Mount Fuji, as luminous as a painting on a silk scroll.

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