I knew it wouldn’t be long before the game brought a cat into the mix, and it didn’t disappoint. In one scene, a character asks you to find his dear little girl who has been kidnapped, and you’re under the impression you’re searching for his daughter — right up until you find the kidnappers, give ’em a good old Yakuza beatdown, and realize your acquaintance’s “little girl” is actually a cat:
The game, which is little-known in the US but hugely popular in Japan, also features a, shall we say, less amiable encounter with cats:
And making a whip of cords, he drove them all out of the temple, with the sheep and oxen. And he poured out the coins of the money-changers and overturned their tables. And he told those who sold the pigeons, “Take these things away; do not make my Father’s house a house of trade.” – John 2:13-16
Growing up Catholic, I heard the story of Jesus furiously expelling the money-changers and merchants from the temple at least a few times a year in church gospels.
The message was clear: Houses of worship are supposedly to be solemn and hushed places where people can speak to God in peace.
Sensō-ji temple is quite the opposite.
Sensō-ji is not only Japan’s oldest temple, it’s one of the most-visited spiritual sites in the world, with an estimated 30 million annual visitors.
It’s also one of Tokyo’s most-accessible shrines, just a short walk from a subway stop in Asakusa. All that foot traffic makes it irresistible for local merchants, who sell everything from traditional lanterns to t-shirts, stuffed animals, shoes, bags and hats.
On the day I visited a steady rain hadn’t put a dent in the mixed crowd of locals and tourists.
A giant lantern hangs beneath the temple gate, which was rebuilt in 1960 after a fire destroyed its predecessor. While most of the structures at Sensō-ji are reproductions, the area has been a religious site for more than 1,000 years.
I turn to look. This is the first bit of English I’ve heard all evening, and sure enough it’s directed at me, the blue-eyed, red-brown-haired, bearded ‘Merican who couldn’t blend into the crowd if I had a human-size Cuisinart.
“Come check it out,” says the speaker, a sharply-dressed guy in his 30s, gesturing toward a drinking establishment just off one of Shinjuku’s busiest streets. “I’ve got the girl of your dreams inside. You like Japanese women?”
“We’re good,” my brother says.
The salesman ignores him, singing his pitch like an R&B ballad.
“You like Japanese women, man? I know you do. We got Japanese women waiting to meet American guys.”
My trust in my brother is absolute, this bar dude is acting sketchy as hell, and I’m not that much of an idiot, so I take my bro’s cue and follow him toward the intersection.
“What was that all about?”
The guy who approached us was an extortionist, my brother explained. They’ll invite you into the club, let you order a few drinks but neglect to tell you the drinks are 10,000 yen each, or about $90 USD. If you refuse to pay they’ll call Tokyo police, who will take the word of a local business owner over the word of a tourist in what they see as a legitimate dispute.
“Or they’ll spike your drink,” my brother said, “take all your cash and run your credit cards to the limit.”
Japan’s not the kind of place where you worry about pickpockets or getting jumped by local thugs, but it’s a mistake to assume crime doesn’t exist here.
Tokyo may be one of the world’s safest cities, a place where you can leave your door unlocked or leave your bike unattended while confident no one will steal it, yet tourists are universal easy prey.
While walking through Shinjuku’s busy streets I was reminded of an interview with the great novelist David Mitchell, who spent several years in Japan teaching English before returning to the UK.
Moving through Tokyo as a westerner unable to decipher Japanese writing, Mitchell noted, is like being cocooned in your own personal anti-advertising buffer. All that hiragana and katakana written in neon might as well be mood lighting — it’s there, but if you can’t understand it, it can’t invade your headspace.
Mitchell said he found that obliviousness calming and conducive to keeping to his own thoughts on writing. Being there in person and experiencing it for myself, I could appreciate his point.
Another famous feature of Shinjuku is the giant Godzilla head, which looks like the King of Monsters is looming just behind a pair of buildings overlooking the neighborhood’s central crossing.
Near the heart of the city, under the shadow of Tokyo Tower, is Zōjō-ji Temple.
The shrine is the most important location in a 1,000-year-old sect of Buddhism as well as the burial grounds of the last shoguns. But what’s most striking about the complex is how it contrasts the old and the new — the sangedatsumon (“gate”) to Zōjō-ji, pictured above, is the oldest surviving wooden structure in Tokyo, leading to an island of tranquility amid skyscrapers, subway lines, neon signs and thousands of shops.
Tonight we visited the Roppongi Hills Mori Tower, a skyscraper with great views of the surrounding city.
The building is less than a five-minute walk from my brother’s apartment, and at 54 stories and 781 feet it’s the sixth-tallest building in Tokyo.
Mori Tower has a 54th floor “Sky Deck” which was closed this evening due to the weather, so the observation deck on the 52nd floor was our only choice.
It doesn’t really matter — the view is spectacular and the observation deck features a 360-degree view of the city through floor-to ceiling windows. It’s even got signs pointing out the neighborhoods you’re looking at from each angle, and a section where you can pull up a chair, have a cup of tea and look over the city.
Even from this height Tokyo extends to the horizon in every direction save for the waterfront near Haneda, an endless sprawl of shops, homes, office buildings, izakayas, plazas and parks.
All photos by Big Buddy using a Canon T3. Click on the photos for higher-resolution versions. Trust me, it’s worth it. 🙂
Chronicling the adventures of Buddy the Cat and his various criminal enterprises.