東京 Tokyo, Technology and Troubling Teachings

On Friday I packed my bags for the big (or bigger) city: Tokyo 東京! I have spent the last four days sight seeing in Tokyo, so expect much Tokyo-related content over the next few days – hopefully that will atone for my absence. I had a fantastic trip and already want to go back.

I took the Shinkansen (新幹線) to Tokyo, the fastest (and most expensive) way to get there. The Shinkansen is simply cool. With its tinted front cabin windows, streamlined figure and white space-age feel, it really shows the technological side of Japan. I took this feat of engineering from old, traditional Kyoto to the fast-paced, dazzling Tokyo. It cost me 16,000円 (£87) one way, but the over night bus takes 9 hours, and you have to do it once. Sadly I didn’t see Mt Fuji because I was on the wrong side of the train and it was a bit foggy.

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The Shinkansen was first planned in the 1940s but was put on hold by WWII and now it is the most heavily travelled high-speed rail in the world, with a cumulative ridership of 5.3bn, averaging 140m passengers a year. The first lines were completed in 1964, including the line I took – the Tokaido  route 東海道. In 1964 it took 4 hours to travel from Osaka to Tokyo, today it takes 2 hours 25 minutes. This will get even quicker next year, when they increase the fastest trains from 168mph to 175mph. By 2025 they are planning to use Maglev technology to levitate the trains above the track to make them reach 310mph. Its like something straight out of a sci-fi novel. Unequivocally cool.

They even look like they’re wearing sunglasses, so cool.

That day my friend and I visited Shibuya (渋谷), another icon of Japanese modernity. If you have seen almost any film featuring modern Japan (Tokyo Drift, Lost in Translation etc.) you’d recognise Shibuya junction where everyone walks at each other surrounded by skyscrapers covered in billboards. It is always packed with people and it was a great experience to actually walk on the crossing.

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I was distracted from the crossing by the dulcet tones of politicians yelling at us through megaphones; the election was only 2 days away and in Shibuya you have a constant moving audience. The party in question was the 幸福実現党, the Happiness Realisation Party, which is part of the Happy Science religion. Yes, there is a Happy Science religion.

This religion appears to be an amalgamation of many other religions, such as Christianity and Buddhism, and is of Japanese creation. Interstingly they are quite politically oriented and their manifesto includes Japanese military expansion and denial of the Nanking massacre, among other things. Sounds very happy indeed.

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The leader, Okawa Ryuho (大川 隆法), also claims to be able to communicate with the spirits of politicians (even if they are alive) and he ‘interviews’ them and publishes the interviews in a book. Interviewees include candidate Mitt Romney and Margaret Thatcher. In fact, in 2013 it published a message from Margaret Thatcher’s spirit, calling her the “angel of light” and claiming she was urging Japan to attack China, Taiwan and North Korea. While one should probably respect religions, this one is plainly insane and possibly dangerous. Thankfully they got a negligible portion of the vote this time.

Shibuya is full of shops, and is perfect if you want to pick up some new clothes or just look at all the pretty neon lights. I enjoyed just wandering around and taking it all in – definitely worth a visit.

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More Tokyo trip blog soon!

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