In his debut multimedia column, Jimmy Viola expounds on the mystery of Tokyo.
Thin vapors of breath escaped in heaves from the furnace of my lungs, dissipating into the jeweled midnight sky. The glow of the full moon illuminated the Martian landscape and its red and black volcanic chunks. Looming above me at 12,388 feet sat the seemingly insurmountable Mount Fuji. Seven grueling hours of climbing later, I collapsed at Fuji’s summit to witness Japan’s rising sun emerge from a bed of clouds – and it was only my first weekend in Japan.
Tokyo can easily be a sensory bombardment, disorienting and overwhelming to an outsider. Familiar land marks by day morph into nearly unrecognizable neon-lit creatures by night. People sprint down the streets at all hours. The flashing lights and allure of the Tokyo nightlife attracts swarms of people like moths flying around a lamp post.
The Shinjuku prefecture is the main artery to Tokyo’s throbbing pulse. Shinjuku houses the world’s busiest subway station. More than 3 million people cross through the Shinjuku station each day. Hidden in the shadows of Shinjuku’s skyscrapers, behind the kaleidoscopic blur of red light district, is a maze of alleys known as Golden Gai, crammed with bars no bigger than walk-in closets. Locals, seeking an escape from the city’s dizzying size and tempo, flock to these intimate dives to relax after work.
I wandered into Golden Gai by chance. There is no such thing as being lost in Tokyo. Everything has its own place and time, somewhere, waiting to be discovered. From ramen shops, Shinto shrines and Buddhist temples to international nightclubs, sushi restaurants and karaoke bars – Tokyo’s golden goose has laid its precious eggs at every corner of the sprawling metropolis for urban explorers to feast upon. One semester in Tokyo may only be enough to barely grasp all of Tokyo’s treasures, but I hope to at least capture through my words and images what can only be experienced.
[flickr: 14423699@N04 72157622225153393]
Jimmy Viola can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.