Tokyo is the new Paris
It's simply the greatest city in the world. If you haven't been there, you need to go.
“There are only two places in the world where we can live happy: at home and in Paris.” — Ernest Hemingway
What is the greatest city on Earth? If you answered “New York City”, I wouldn’t laugh at you. As the financial hub of what’s still nominally the world’s biggest economy, it commands economic power that any other single city would have trouble rivaling, and it’s still the city of dreams for untold millions around the globe. If you answered “Shanghai”, I might purse my lips in skepticism, but if you believe that China is destined to supplant the developed democracies as the center of wealth and power, then Shanghai would admittedly be the logical choice.
But actually, the greatest city in the world is Tokyo.
I say this as I prepare to once again fly there, for the third time in eight months. Another batch of friends is going to see the city for the first time, and they asked me to show them around. I can’t say no. It’s a way to recapture a little bit of the magic of going there myself for the first time. If you’ve never been, it’s time to go.
Words can only grope clumsily at the sensation of actually being in Tokyo. I could describe to you the experience of sipping artisinal cocoa in a quiet bar in Omotesando that looks like it was run through a warming filter; of strolling through a silent park next to a shrine with cherries in bloom; of sipping cheap beer and eating greasy fried chicken in a tiny pub at midnight while a crowd of middle-aged regulars sings their favorite song; of discovering a college student’s art in a free gallery that would put many professional exhibitions to shame; of standing in a quiet grove on a carpet of flowers while brand-new skyscrapers loom just beyond the treeline; of squeezing your way through a tiny cobblestone alley hung with lanterns to eat on top of a barrel.
These were all things I did on my last trip, and they were not particularly unusual or remarkable experiences. They are the tiniest sliver of daily existence in Tokyo, which at times can feel more like floating than living. Or as the title of a novel put it in 1981, inexplicably crystalline.
Tokyo is not the same city it was in 1981, nor is it the city I first visited as a wide-eyed, slack-jawed college student two decades ago. It is a living crystal, an agglomeration onto which new objects are constantly being grafted — new buildings, new cultures, new experiences. One time I went to Tokyo in the spring, and saw ten floors of a new skyscraper going up near my friend’s house; I went back in the fall and had tea in the completed tower, immaculate and open for business.
Perhaps a chart will help:
Many great cities become museums of themselves, their lack of new development an homage to their glory days. Tokyo refuses to do this. In a country that is aging and economically stagnant, Tokyo pushes ever forward into the realm of its own possibilities.
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