I walked alone in the streets of Tokyo and felt like a benign Godzilla. Everywhere I went, people stopped in their tracks and stared at me. I started humming on the song “Big in Japan” by Alphaville as I was a six-foot-five gaijin in a sea of short people.

Harajuku, Tokyo Godzilla passing through Harajuku.

After deciphering the glyphs of the subway map I soon found myself in Shibuya and walked across the famous crossing, the busiest pedestrian walkway in the world. To say that I stood out from the crowd would be the understatement of the year. I am the domino brick, hear me roar.

Safely across the sea of humanity I got up to Starbucks on second floor and got a window seat facing the crossing. I had an espresso while trying to study the map in my worn Lonely Planet, but I couldn’t stop staring at the mesmerizing crossing below. A constant flow of people in an ever-changing pattern.

Shibuya crossing, Tokyo Shibuya crossing.

Just a few subway stops to the north, Shinjuku feels like another world. The west side consists of tall skyscrapers, clean but boring. I tried to sneak into some of the cool buildings including the Cocoon, but the security guards unfortunately spotted me from a mile away (surprise). They kindly advised me to talk to the hand.

I soon grew bored at seeing the immaculate palms of security, so after an extremely black Brazilian coffee at Pronto I decided to explore the eastern part of Shinjuku as the sun set. This is a completely different story from the west side since it is Tokyo’s liveliest night spot and the location of the notorious district Kabukicho.

The busy entertainment district of Kabukicho is an assault on the senses. I walked along the neon-drenched street of Yasukuni-dori Ave, where Bill Murray’s character arrived by taxi in the first scenes of Lost in Translation.

Pachinko hall in eastern Shinjuku, Tokyo Passing through a noisy Pachinko hall in eastern Shinjuku.

Dodgy places are found in every nook and cranny. I passed through noisy Pachinko halls and dodged into a Manga Kissa, where people rent booths to read manga, browse the internet and occasionally take a nap.

The seedy underbelly of Kabukicho includes the Golden Gai area, which consists of a few small alleys and I quickly discovered that there are lots of places that don’t want foreigners to enter their crammed spaces.

Tokyo subway map Tokyo subway map. Clear as mud.

I tried to immerse myself in their culture, but it felt very clear that I don’t belong there. Everyone was very polite and “irrashaimasse” is hanging in the air as soon as they see me on the horizon, but as a gaijin one is forever doomed to be left outside their secrets. Especially if you’re tall enough to bust your head into their delicate ceiling ornaments.


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