In Sofia Coppola’s swooning 2003 film Lost In Translation, Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansson fall deliriously in love against the neon-lit backdrop of two of Tokyo’s most vibrant and intoxicating wards: Shinjuku and Shibuya.
The bittersweet May-December romance of a world-weary screen actor and a fresh-faced college graduate draws energy and wistful optimism from the Japanese capital, glimpsing a head-on collision of centuries-old tradition and hi-tech innovation through the eyes of two Western interlopers, desperate to escape the confines of the Park Hyatt Tokyo hotel.
A decade and a half later, it’s impossible to resist the bountiful charms of elegant neighbours Shinjuku and Shibuya, where commerce and entertainment skip hand-in-hand. They are linked by the city’s impeccably clean and reliable Metro system via a single interchange for JYP170 (about £1.10) each way.
You might recognise some of these places from the film…
1. Shinjuku Station
Judging by the bilingual station signs, the Japanese have their priorities spot-on to ensure everything runs smoothly underground. Don’t be put off by the vastness of Shinjuku Station, which has over 200 exits. It’s the world’s busiest hub with over 3.5 million passengers per day and during morning rush hour (Monday to Friday 7am-9am), pushers on platforms give commuters a helping shove to ensure trains depart on time.
The beating heart of Shinjuku’s pulsating entertainment and gaming district is Kabukicho. Known affectionately as ‘the town that never sleeps’, the area is crammed with nightclubs, bars, cinemas, hostess clubs, massage parlours and love hotels. The retina-searing barrage of lights and signage is memorably immortalised in Murray’s opening scene in Lost In Translation. He wakes in the back seat of a taxi as the night-time cityscape reflects in the car’s windows.
3. The Robot Restaurant
No visit to Kabukicho would be complete without an evening at the brilliantly bonkers Robot Restaurant. Before the main show, an automata band that would make Daft Punk rust with envy entertains the expectant crowd with surprisingly tuneful cover versions.
Down two floors to the main theatre, which seats the audience on opposite sides of a catwalk stage, the mechanised carnival floor show manages to combine the high-energy mayhem of Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers with indoor pyrotechnics, drumming, dancing and a storyline that cheekily references Avatar.
Audience participation is actively encouraged – cheers ring out when Raphael from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles makes a surprise appearance – building to a deafening wail when battery-powered sticks are handed out to every diner to wave with gusto to the beat of Village People’s disco classic Y.M.C.A. Entry costs JYP8000 (around £52) per person. Visit shinjuku-robot.com
4. The Zoetrope shot bar
In Coppola’s film, Murray and Johansson trade smouldering glances as they sip whisky in the New York Bar of their hotel. Today, they would probably head for one of Tokyo’s hidden gems: the Zoetrope shot bar where owner Atsushi Horigami offers selections from hundreds of Japanese single malts while classic films are projected onto a back wall. There’s barely enough room to seat a dozen customers, but small is indeed beautiful. Visit Zoetrope.
5. Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden
Combining three distinct landscape styles – English, French and traditional Japanese – including 1100 cherry trees that heave with delicate pink blossom in the spring, Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden was opened to the public after the Second World War and is a popular oasis of calm located within easy walking distance of the bustling entertainment district.
You can happily wile away hours exploring tree-lined avenues or wandering over bridges that link impeccably maintained ponds. Admission to the park is JYP200 (about £1.30) for adults and JYP50 (30p) for children. Visit env.go.jp
6. The National Stadium
The eyes of the world will be trained on Tokyo in 2020 for the Summer Olympic and Paralympic Games, and a new purpose-built national stadium is currently under construction in Shinjuku. A design by British-Iraqi architect Dame Zaha Hadid was deemed too expensive, but the skeleton of a wooden-latticed stadium inspired by Japanese temples, the brainchild of Japanese architect Kengo Kuma, is on schedule for completion in November 2019.
7. Shibuya Crossing
When you emerge from the Hachiko exit of Shibuya Station, you are greeted by one of the iconic sights of the city: the intersection where traffic lights change at the same time, creating an eye-catching collision of pedestrians. You’ll need to be quick to capture the moment on film or, alternatively, head into the coffee shop that overlooks the crossing to watch the madness unfold as you top up caffeine reserves.
8. The Disney Store
You’ll certainly need plenty of energy to criss-cross the various shops crammed into the cultural hub of Shibuya. Children can live out fairy-tale fantasies at a cutesy Disney Store with a castle frontage and an upper floor dedicated to Gepetto’s workshop replete with a Pinocchio puppet. Meanwhile, the Shibuya 109 shopping mall boasts 10 floors (two below ground) of couture and designer labels that regularly attract foreign celebrities.
The main branch of Tokyu department store is close to the station but for adorable and affordable souvenirs, head to the funky mechanised sign of Loft just a short distance from Shibuya crossing, which is crammed to bursting with knicks and knacks that you never knew you wanted or needed.
9. The Meiji Jingu shrine
Away from the ringing tills, seek inner peace at Meiji Jingu. Established in 1920 in honour of Emperor Meiji, great-grandfather of the current Japanese leader, the majestic Shinto shrine is surrounded by a forest of 100,000 trees, which were planted by volunteers. Enter through a 40ft-tall Torii Gate. It’s traditional to bow (though seldom observed by tourists) and keep to one side of the pathway – the centre is reserved for gods.
The path is flanked by barrels of sake donated by local businesses and leads to a font, where you should abide by the rules of the cleansing ritual. You can throw coins into the Offering Box, or purchase wooden tablets called ema to inscribe with prayers or wishes for the year ahead. Taking photographs and videos of the main shrine building is prohibited.
The shrine also has a station for car owners to cleanse their new or secondhand vehicles. Admission to the shrine is free but entry to an inner garden, which includes a fishing area dedicated to Emperor’s Meiji’s devoted consort Empress Shoken, requires a nominal maintenance contribution of JYP500 (around £3.30). Visit meijijingu.or.jp
10. This avenue of dreams
Ginkgo trees, which turn a brilliant shade of yellow in the autumn, are synonymous with Tokyo and there are few better places in the city to enjoy the rich colours of the changing seasons than the shimmering canopy created by the 146 trees that line the route to Seitoku Memorial Art Museum. Small stalls along the street sell tempting Japanese delicacies.
11. Takeshita Street
Fashion-forward Japanese teenagers flock to the pedestrianised shopping thoroughfare of Takeshita Street in the Harajuku district in Shibuya, which targets young, style-savvy shoppers with bright colours, twinkling lights and a dizzying array of boutiques and cafes along the 400 metre-long route.
The surrounding area is full of strange and wonderful sights, like tourists dressed as video-game characters touring city streets in chunky go-karts. Sadly, UK driving licences aren’t valid to burn rubber as Mario and Yoshi. But it’s not game over for quirky surprises.
12. Hedgehog Cafe
Nestled cosily opposite Harajuku Station, Hedgehog Cafe takes the Japanese obsession with cuteness to levels that some animal lovers might find distressing. A 30-minute slot costs JYP1400 (around £9.20) and allows you to hold, pet or feed the spiny mammals, which are housed in glass tanks and pens around the second-floor eaterie. You can also buy tiny cups of mealworms to feed to the hedgehogs using metal tweezers. Visit harinezumicafe-harajuku.com
© Press Association 2018
Source : http://www.tv3.ie/xpose/article/lifestyle/259163/12-quirky-places-you-must-see-in-Toykos-Shinjuku-and-Shibuya-districts