STANDING 450m above the ground, I could almost pinch Tokyo’s skyscrapers as if they were Lego bricks. Everywhere I looked, 360 degrees, was a panoramic view of endless concrete jungle.
Here I was, 450m above the ground in the Tokyo Skytree – the world’s tallest tower. This tower opened in 2011 to transmit Japan’s TV waves, and was built 634m high to minimise the interference of these waves from tall buildings.
Although I return to Japan every two or three years to visit my family, each time the country has a surprise for me. This time, it was the sheer size of the Skytree.
I squeezed onto one of the four packed shuttle elevators, and watched in awe as the floor number rose from level five to 350 in the space of 30 seconds, the speedometer rising to its top speed of 600m per minute. My ears popped as we shot upwards, but it wasn’t until the doors glided open to reveal the large windows overlooking the roofs of the city’s buildings that I realised how high we had come.
Children and adults alike ran towards the glass to peer down at life below and to take in the surrounding landscape.
I then decided to go for the highest one at 451.2m. This level offered another experience; the same view, smaller buildings. Back on the ground, there was another view of Tokyo.
Yes, I’ve been here many times, but even still, I had to crane my neck to find the point where buildings met sky. Neon signs, advertising billboards, cafes and shops lined the streets, alongside the karaoke bars, arcade game parlours, bars and restaurants.
Shop assistants from every corner chanted “irasshaimase” (welcome) to entice customers into their shops, and once walk inside there’s no doubt you will hear the shop’s theme tune or special offers playing through the speakers.
These theme tunes are usually a simple melody that repeats the shop’s name and slogan over and over again, so by the time I had left one shop, I was humming the tune down the street. It’s a simple,yet effective example of Japanese marketing.
Shopping in Tokyo is fun and interesting as you’ll find all sorts of things here that you can’t find in Ireland. The most advanced technology, anime merchandise, household goods and different styles of fashion are just some of the things that you can’t miss when you go browsing.
My first stop for a shopping trip is Takeshita Dori in Harajuku, which is a popular district for fashion-conscious teenagers. This long bustling street is almost like a giant catwalk as young shoppers come here to express themselves through their quirky fashion.
It’s not strange to see people in Lolita dresses, cosplay outfits or mix-matched fashion styles here, but the weekends tend to be the busiest. It’s a good place for browsing and people watching, and for picking up accessories and small souvenirs.
Close by to Harajuku is Shibuya, which is Tokyo’s fashion hotspot for young people. This is where I found my favourite department store – Shibuya 109. It is almost like a giant nightclub that boasts 10 floors – of which two are in the basement. Boutiques are lit with spotlights, loud dance music fills the aisles and shop assistants are dressed up immaculately. I admit that I did find myself subconsciously grooving as I browsed through the rails here.
Just outside Shibuya 109 is the world famous “scramble” pedestrian crossing. This is no ordinary pedestrian crossing. Once the traffic light turns green, people cross the road from every direction. Although it’s one of the world’s busiest pedestrian crossings, the incredible thing is that once the traffic lights turn red, the junction is completely cleared as the pedestrians wait in line for traffic to pass. It’s mesmerising to see such organised chaos, so it’s fun to spend some time in a cafe watching this in action.
During my trip I spent three days in Tokyo. Although I did a lot, I know there is much more to explore here. The view from the Skytree was overwhelming as the city seemed to have no end, and I was eager to see as much as I could. But until my next trip there, I’ll wait for the next surprise the city has in store for me.
Hiromi Mooney won the 2013 Travel Extra Young Travel Writer of The Year award, and flew to Japan courtesy of her award category sponsor, Turkish Airlines.