So long Shinjuku, toodleloo Tokyo

Before we head onto the glorious Japanese Alps we have one final night in the neon heartland of Shinjuku.

The man is both intrigued and then delighted by this vending machine restaurant. Just pop in your money, make your selection, get your ticket and take it to the counter.

Seconds later – a meal is handed over. Proper fast food!

More futuristic eye popping neon sights await us, including this entrance to a girly bar that I force the man to pose in . . .

Tigers graffiti, cute kitty stickers and gigantic demons are just common place sights in this sleepless city.

But you can still find more traditional Japan if you look hard enough. I love the decorative kanji script. Even if I have absolutely no idea what’s being sold!

Below is the icon Kabukicho Red gate and it signals you’ve arrived in the district.

Or in our case it signals a last, lingering look at one of the most exciting cities on the planet.

But for now it’s so long Shinjuku, toodleloo Tokyo and onwards with our hectic journey across Japan.

Capsule hotels & manic manga

Heading back from Nikko we’re catapulted back into the frenetic modernity of Japan and it’s hectic railway network.

Even the usually dry train literature is exciting to me. It helps that it’s super cute and colourful too.

The bullet trains have magazines advertising lots of intriguing, and in some cases, unfathomable, things for sale including these colourful, decorative bento boxes.

The man finally gets to live the dream as a train conductor, meanwhile you get a taste of exactly how cramped the trains can actually get.

Then it’s onto our lodgings for the evening – a capsule hotel. As we’re in Japan it would be a crying shame not to try out one of these curious little places.

We opt for the Booth Net Cafe and Capsule in the heart of manic Shinjuku.

Men’s and women’s capsules are separated so we head off in different directions!

Each tiny little capsule is like a small plastic box, with just enough room to sit up in. But it’s not as claustrophobic as I had feared.

There’s no door, just a pull down rattan blind and you get a plastic pillow!

Getting cosy for the night has never involved so much contortion before!!

As well as the capsule hotel section, the net booth cafe is also a haven for manga lovers.

It’s literally shelf after shelf of the colourful comic books. Completely bonkers.

The word “manga” comes from the Japanese word 漫画, made up of the two kanji 漫 (man) meaning “whimsical or impromptu” and 画 (ga) meaning “pictures”.

In Japan, people of all ages read manga. They come in a broad range of genres: action-adventure, comedy, historical drama, horror, romance, science fiction, fantasy and porn!

Manga stories are typically printed in black-and-white, although some full-colour manga exist.

In Japan, manga are usually serialised in large manga magazines, often containing many stories, each presented in a single episode to be continued in the next issue.

After our surprisingly comfortable night, it’s onto the train again and waving goodbye to Tokyo (sob) and onwards to the gorgeous Japanese alps.

Sayonara Shinjuku

Here’s one last neon whirl around Shinjuku’s flashing lights and garish nightlife.

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I’m missing the frenetic city again! The temptation to book flights and head back is increasing with every photo I post!

A last look at Godzilla is a kitschy reminder of the wealth of cultural influences that Japan has gifted to the world.

And if anything sums up the zany, colourful craziness of Tokyo it’s this unlikely pair of tiny dancers!

Golden Gai

Next on our nighttime tour of Shinjuku is Golden Gai. This quirky little slice of Tokyo nightlife is a rabbit warren of bars – almost like a shanty town for inebriation!

Below are a couple of pictures of Golden Gai from above showing just how crammed in it is and how ramshackle the little businesses are.

 

In the dingy labyrinth of the Golden Gai you can see glimpses of Tokyo’s more down to earth, locally-minded nightlife.

It’s made up of a network of six narrow alleys, connected by even smaller passageways just wide enough for a single person to squish through. Over 200 tiny shack like bars  and clubs  are shoe horned in.

It’s a magnet for locals and tourists alike with its tiny rat run alleys and miniature drinking establishments.

Golden Gai has architectural importance as it has escaped the relentless development that has wiped away much of the city’s traditional architecture and layout.

It’s a window into the relatively recent past of Tokyo, when large parts of the city had extremely narrow lanes and tiny two-story buildings.

The number of people who can squeeze into each establishment ranges from about five to thirty. Each bar has it’s own theme and unique style.

Whether it’s old Hollywood glamour, psychedelic 70s rock or the best of British pop and punk, there’s a drinking den to suit any style.

Most of the bars accept visitors now, but some still only welcome regular customers – if in doubt check to see if there’s a price list or anything written in English before entering.

Not everywhere is welcoming and friendly to outsiders however . .  . and be prepared for eye watering cover charges on top of anything you order.

It’s worth taking an hour to browse around this colourful little part of Tokyo. It might be cramped, dingy and expensive but it’s definitely an experience!

 

Sensory over load in the metropolis

Eager to make the most of our limited time in the bustling metropolis of Tokyo we head out into the bright lights of Shinjuku again.

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It’s a whirlwind of colour and sounds, endlessly scrolling sky high adverts and a flock of humans.

Coming from a tiny rural town in the midland of the UK, it is just about as far away from home as can ever be possible.

Every single wall, building, shop or arcade is an eyeball blasting shock of colour and pattern.

The proliferation of girly bars jar against the saccharine sweet, relentlessly cute decor and plastic tat vending machines that seem aimed at children.

Moving on just slightly we come to Kabukicho – the largest red-light district in Japan, without the official red-light prostitutes. Instead, it is full of host and hostess clubs, bars, and love hotels.

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Godzilla rears his huge head above the skyline to once again terrorise the city’s inhabitants.

Kabukicho is  often called the “Sleepless Town” and the district’s name comes from late-1940s plans to build a kabuki theatre. It never happened but the name lingers on.

It is truly an assault on the senses – almost fit inducing with its strobing neon, incessantly scrolling billboards and  . . giant neon robot women!

If ever there is an image that sums up the wild ride that Tokyo is – these are it!

Primarily used as a lure to get you into the Robot Restaurant (a robot techno neon nightmare) you can sit in these immense ladies and manipulate their arms up and down!

While the candy bright colours and flashing lights are disconcerting enough, the area also has a very seedy, downright dangerous, underbelly.

In 2004, according to a spokesperson of Metropolitan Tokyo, there are more than 1,000 yakuza members in Kabukichō, and 120 different enterprises under their control

There have been concerted efforts to clean up the area’s reputation with crackdowns on the gangs and illegal brothels.

However there were a lot of sharp suited young men hanging around the clubs who left us slightly unnerved. Whether gang members or toutes trying to get the single men into the girly bars, we moved on quickly!

Next up the rabbit warren of bars that is the Golden Gai. Stay tuned!