Lost in Tokyo

GSN channels our inner Scarlett Johansson and explores the Japanese capital

This was my first visit to Japan and I was excited.

I flew Virgin Atlantic from London’s Heathrow to Tokyo Narita Airport (grabbing some Yo Sushi! for breakfast to help me start to connect with the Japanese culture).

I was prepared to be overwhelmed by Tokyo, the pace, the people, the pulse of the city. But Narita Airport was calm and efficient. ?The easiest way to get into Tokyo is the Narita Express train, ¥2,910 ($36 €28) for a one way journey and very civilised with allocated seating. ?It’s a 60 minute journey to Tokyo station and 90 minutes to Shinjuku where I was headed.

I had a vague plan to walk from Shinjuku station to the hotel, but I couldn’t get my bearings – it’s difficult to describe how foreign I felt trying to navigate my way through an unfamiliar space, so I jumped in a cab for the short journey to the Park Hyatt.

I’d chosen the hotel because it was here that Scarlett Johansson and Bill Murray holed up, found each other and themselves in Sofia Coppola’s 2003 movie Lost In Translation. Clearly I was planning to be Scarlett, not Bill.

The Park Hyatt is a beautiful hotel – one of those hotels where I could quite happily stay spend an entire holiday and never venture out into the outside world. ?Designed by Architect Kenzo Tange and Interior Designer John Morford, it has an amazing sense of warmth and calm – a color scheme of muted greens and neutral browns, offset with ebony. There’s a strong focus on art and books, it almost feels like you’re staying in a stately home, or a luxurious library.

?Situated on the top 14 floors of Shinjuku Park Tower, the views from the hotel are spectacular – day or night I could spend hours looking out across the Tokyo skyline. The view is almost overwhelming – the city seems to sprawl out before you as a never-ending metropolis.?

I know this is over-sharing, but I’ve got to say that I fell in love with the toilet in my hotel room – not only did it have a heated seat, but it also had a built in bidet that oscillated and dried. Now that is one smooth-talking toilet!

Another stand-out features of the hotel is the pool and spa complex. Situated on the 47th floor, the panoramic views overwhelming, the roof-top atrium maximizes natural light for the 20m pool, while the spa complex (with a range of whirlpools and saunas) is indulgent and intimate. ?It’s difficult to imagine a better hotel experience.

As much as I could have easily bunkered down in the hotel for my entire stay, I did manage to get out an explore a of few glimpses of this fascinating city.

I was in town for a number of interviews – my first was with Kyle, the vice-chairman of a local LGBT organization. We chatted over coffee and then he took me for a walking tour of Tokyo’s gay district which is just near Shinjuku station.?

For a city the size of Tokyo, its gay district is relatively small and understated. It runs for about five blocks along street Naka-Dori, but the bars are discretely located in the alleys that run off the main street – so you do have to know what you’re looking for.

We stopped for a drink at Dragon bar, it was a quiet Monday night but it was friendly and relaxed and we chatted with the bar manager over our tequila sunrises.? By all reports Tokyo’s gay bars are suffering a bit of a decline – location-based technology such as Grindr means that guys no longer have to travel into central Tokyo’s gay bars in order to meet other guys; plus the government has recently cracked down on any dancing in premises unlicensed for dancing. I didn’t really understand the connection, but according to everyone I spoke with this is related to a tightening of control by the Japanese government since the 2011 earthquake and tsunami. ?It’s still worth checking out though, just no dancing.

My second interview was with Dave, an expatriate artist – originally from Cardiff but now living in Tokyo. We caught the subway from Shinjuku to Roppongi – Roppongi is famous for it’s bars and nightlife but we were there to go to the Mori Art Museum for an exhibition by Aida Makoto – a controversial Japanese artist. On top of the Mori Tower there is an observation deck which gives amazing views of the city. It was then back to Shinjuku where we grabbed some amazing Ramen in a back street cafe, washing it down with Asahi beer.

The next day I caught a cab across town to shopping mecca Ginza to meet up with Rick and Cate – old friends from Melbourne who are now working in Tokyo.?We had coffee sitting in the sun outside a Starbucks, laughing at how rubbish we are at keeping in touch but loving that it didn’t seem to matter at all. It was a quick-fire exchange of information – News? Kids? Family? Travel? Plans? Up to speed, we’re good.

My afternoon was spent wandering around Yoyogi Park and the Meiji Shrine. This is a surprisingly large park with a thick forest of trees – a small oasis of calm amidst the otherwise frenetic city. The Meiji Shrine is the Shinto shrine that is dedicated to the deified spirits of Emperor Meiji and his wife, Empress Shoken – built after the Emperor’s death in 1912, the surrounding evergreen forest consists of 120,000 trees of 365 different species, which were donated by people from all parts of Japan when the shrine was established.

That evening I met with Hiro, one of the organizers of Tokyo’s LGBT Pride parade. We chatted over beers in the hotel bar. Hiro and his team are working hard to raise awareness and acceptance of LGBT issues with a fairly disinterested Japanese government and general public. This frustrates Hiro and he draws parallels to Japan’s Edo period (1603 to 1868) when same-sex relationships between men were apparently actively encouraged and celebrated.

My last night was spent in the New York Bar on the 52nd floor of the Park Hyatt. Listening to a super cool jazz band, looking out over the lights of Tokyo, sipping a martini and keeping an eye out for Bill Murray.

by Gareth Johnson
Source – Gay Star News