We have reached the end of our three weeks in Japan and though I have fallen in love with this extraordinary country and its contrast of modern and ancient, I am happy to return home.
My head is full of impressions and I need time to contemplate all that we have experienced from food to theatre, from zen to rice pillows.
But we have saved an explosion of impressions for our last day. We are going to Akihabara the centre of the otaku world. This is manga and animé heaven on earth, and the place that all good otaku pilgrim to.
The dark side of Akihabara
It is a crazy place with promotional dance shows, girls dressed as maids and millions of figurines from famous manga and animé.
Before going to Japan my impression of the animé and manga culture was rather innocent. It was all excessive cuteness and pretty costumes. But after three weeks here the cuteness has turned sour.
This is a highly sex fixated culture and in Akihabara you will find not only the pretty and well proportioned animé characters. Almost everywhere you will find figurines with a directly sexual connotation.
There is nothing innocent about Akihabara and it sends out a message, which I can only assume adds to the already unhealthy direction that Japanese relationships are taking these years, where fewer and fewer children are born and the population only grows older.
To me it seems the ideal woman has been distorted into an overly cute girl (emphasis on girl) in a maid costume and with a large bosom. Girlfriends are available online through LovePlus.
Yes the modern Japanese culture which is founded in manga and animé is awesome and different and loads of other positive adjectives. But there is a shadow side to this, which becomes particularly obvious in Akihabara.
No wonder the Japanese women spend their nights at gentlemen’s clubs, where they can flirt with available guys for a price. Who wouldn’t want to satisfy the need for human interaction and dreams of relationships in this way, when the men fall under the spell of 17 year old virtual girlfriends.
Photos in the night
We split in Akihabara, since I had already from the outset of our trip planned to join an excursion for those with a love for taking photos.
While my boyfriend ventured out into the Tokyo summer evening, to say good-bye for this time to a country we have both come to love, I met up with a group of similarly minded travellers at Shinjuku Station.
For a couple of hours we walked around with cameras on night setting, taking pictures in the tunnels of Shinjuku Station and from various bridges and crossings including the ever busy Shibuya crossing.
My favourite part was when our guide took us up a narrow street in Shinjuku filled with small bars and restaurant. Here people were hanging out for food and beer after work. None of them seemed to have any issue with the camera crazy group of travellers taking their pictures.
I imagine they were used to it, since we had come to Omoide Yokocho, meaning Memory Lane. This is the fashionable name given to the area after a 1999 fire forced the place to be rebuilt.
The locals call it Piss Alley, since there used to be no toilets in the area prior to the redevelopment in 1999, and people therefore had to piss on the nearby train tracks.
There are around 60 bars and small eateries, which become filled with locals after hours. One of the main dishes here is yakitori, grilled sticks which can be made of pretty much anything. This matches well with how animal organs were sold here back in the 1940’s.
Piss Alley takes its origin in the black market trade of the 1940’s where more than animal organs was bootlegged here. Walking here is like a journey through time.
It is a magical place which brings to mind the old Japan – not as seen in Kyoto or Nara or the Gassho-style guest houses in Ainokura. This is post-war Japan, and a place I definitely wish too return to, if ever I have the chance.
Unfortunately, after three weeks my camera was slightly filthy. There was not much left of the attentive care the Panasonic man had treated my camera with during our first day in Nagoya.
But while my photos of the night scene at Shibuya Crossing were a bit blurry that is okay, because it tells its own story of three amazing weeks through the nature, culture and modern cities of Japan.
After the end of the tour, I found my boyfriend at a sushi joint in Shibuya, which during the last week had become our neighbourhood. Here we enjoyed one last taste of Japan before returning home full of impressions and memories and stories to share.
One thing we agreed on was that this will not be the last time we visit Japan.
Arigatou Gozaimasu Nippon