I made my first trip to Japan back in June of this year and since then I have been itching to return. It’s such a fascinating and beautiful country and there is SO much to see. I decided my second trip would be to Tokyo, Japan’s capital and largest city, and Kyoto, the historical center of the country. I flew from Busan to Tokyo Narita airport on Air Asia (a budget airline that packs their planes so full you can barely move) and spent the night near the airport. The following morning I took the train into Tokyo city proper.
Tokyo is the world’s largest city, measured by metropolitan area (Seoul is the second largest). The city seems to never end and it takes several hours just to get across it. My first stop was at one of Tokyo’s quieter districts for a visit to the Ghibli Museum. This museum was designed by Hayao Miyazaki, a famed animator and basically the Walt Disney of Japan. Miyazaki has created my favorite animated movies of all time and I couldn’t make a trip to Tokyo without stopping by the museum.
The museum architecture is fun and quirky, and there are characters from Ghibli films throughout, including Totoro, the most famous of them all. Inside, the museum contains detailed exhibits celebrating animation and revealing the process behind the creation of Miyazaki’s films. One of the rooms is designed like Miyazaki’s office, with drawings and reference books covering every inch of the walls. There is even a section where you can browse through books of storyboards for some of the films. I felt as if this museum had been designed just for me and I wished I could spend many hours there soaking it all in.
Here is a video another visitor was able to take of the museum:
My last stop in the museum was the movie theater where special short films are played. These films are only shown at this museum and are not available elsewhere. I saw a wonderful film called “Looking for a Home,” in which a girl sets out on a journey to look for a new house. Along the way she encounters and befriends many manifestations of the natural world including fish, insects, and a spirit. All the sound effects in the film were done by the human voice but there is no dialogue. The story is conveyed completely through art and sound effects. Sound is also depicted on screen as animated writing. This film was written and directed my Miyazaki himself and it is one of the best animated shorts I have ever seen.
You can see some clips of the film at the beginning of this video:
Unfortunately the time soon came for me to leave the museum. My next stop was Tokyo Skytree, the tallest structure in Japan. The building is 2,080 feet high, making it the tallest tower in the world and the second tallest structure (after the Burj Khalifa in Dubai). From the Skytree observation deck I was able to get a fantastic view of Tokyo, which really seemed like a never-ending city fading into the distance. There was one section on the observation deck where you could stand on a window of glass and look straight down below you, hundreds of feet to the ground. It was quite a surreal experience.
After the Skytree, I met up with Shonte, the EPIK teacher from my school, who was also visiting Japan. We went to the Shinjuku district of Tokyo to meet one of Shonte’s friends who is living in Japan. We wondered around the streets of Shinjuku, one of Tokyo’s main nightlife areas and had a good dinner near Shinjuku station. One unexpected part of our night was the fact that we had to walk through the red light district of Shinjuku to get to our hotel. All the “activities” took place well behind closed doors but we were approached by several people advertising the services of various establishments. It was a bit of a shocking experience, especially coming from Korea where such things are never openly advertised.
With that, my day in Tokyo came to a close. Early the next morning we would take the bullet train down to Kyoto, the historical heart of Japan.