I have seen the future. It is filled with tall buildings, bright lights, endless noise and millions of people. Excitement, entertainment and enjoyment take place above your head, below your feet and in your face. The future goes non-stop and doesn’t conform to any normal positions of the clock. It’s bigger and more bright than I ever imagined.
The future is reached by a train that speeds across the countryside at 200 miles per hour. The train passes volcanic mountains, verdant rice fields and miles of well tended farmland. It arrives on schedule, to the minute, in a massive station filled with well dressed people moving at a pace that immediately demands your full attention. Like a choreographed dance, the pedestrians move fluidly and efficiently through the maze of underground passageways, all the while multitasking with the latest smartphone that everyone interacts with continuously.
A taxi provides transport to an apartment in Ikebukuro, a somewhat distant neighborhood of Futureworld. Typical here, the apartment is tiny and equipped with everything needed, but nothing extra. A slight lean to the right yields a skyline view of Shinjuku that shines brightly at night from our tiny balcony. A busy 4 lane freeway runs very close outside the window 24 hours a day. That doesn’t seem unusual except our apartment is on the seventh floor. Highways in the sky in this land of tomorrow.
As a tourist, where do you start?
Need to find a restaurant? Been to cities where there is one on every corner? In the future they have one, or more, on every floor of multiple multistory buildings for multiple blocks in a row. It is estimated there are 100,000 restaurants here. Plastic food recreations display the menu in brightly lit windows. Every variety of food is available in every kind of restaurant. From glimmering penthouse view restaurants with the latest fusion cuisine to three seat open grills with meat on a stick and charcoal fires. If you want it, you can find it.
Want to share lunch with the animal kingdom? There are cat cafes, dog cafes, owl cafes and rabbit cafes where, for a fee, you can be accompanied by a pampered furry friend. You can dine with a penguin (or two). You can watch a robot show or be entertained by a host of animated characters of any number of types. A full on disco, decorated with neon colored fish tanks is available, if you need one.
You may ask where the nearest old town area is. A place where things slow down to a quieter pace. A place where a tourist can relax and stroll slowly through some historical old world culture center from days gone by. It doesn’t exist in the future. There are some ancient, ornate temples here or there. But look up above the ancient structure and try not to notice the second tallest structure in the world flashing its lights in the clouds above.
Wherever you go, you will probably go by train. Metros below the ground. A driverless elevated trains passes through and above the futuristic building in the harbor . Monorails speed passengers to the airport. A last tiny tram rumbles roughly through the valley of skyscrapers that have grown around its rickety rails. You may ride all of them in a single journey to some trendy corner of Futureworld.
The metro is not just a form of transportation. It is an amazing engineering feat that is a destination in itself. More than 120 miles of track. 179 stations. 6 billion passengers a year. Grocery stores, restaurants, clothing stores, bakeries and souvenirs are all located underground. Virtually an entire city underground. With the right combination of elevators, escalators, and subways, you can leave the front door of your 40th floor apartment and travel 20 miles to your office in a distant skyscraper office building . Return home in the evening, stopping at a gourmet market and picking up your dry cleaning, all without seeing the sky. No need for an umbrella in Futureworld.
Shopping is an art form here and everyone seems well practiced. Teenagers start young in the eclectic streets of Harajuku. Schoolgirls in uniform crowd Takeshita Street looking for the latest outlandish styles. Boybands with cotton candy colored hair make an appearance outside a trendy bistro, swarmed by giggling fans with smartphone cameras. The styles are beyond anything I have seen and reflect a life in a city that changes trends by the minute instead of by the year.
In Futureworld, malls are destinations and are always full. Our local mall is called Sunshine City. Appropriate as we have spent many a rainy summer afternoon there. Also fitting because it is more of a city than a mall. It has two indoor amusement parks, a museum, a performing arts center, an aquarium, an international food area that must have 40 full scale restaurants. It has an virtual reality attraction called Sky Circus which is located on the 60th floor of the attached office building. That’s correct, 60th floor! It has a center atrium where some performance is usually taking place. Perhaps a meet and greet with the latest J-Pop idol or any number of Pokemon or anime characters. Not the normal local mall.
As shoppers become more sophistacated they eventually migrate toward the Ginza. Every big city has designer stores, but not like this. The streets are blocked to vehicles on Sunday. It is the perfect time to make your way down the cavernous main shopping street. If big budget shopping has a mecca, Ginza is it. Every famous designer, jeweler or electronic manufacturer of any note has a multistory complex dedicated to their wares. The stores are packed with shoppers and judging by the stylish customers, sales must be good.
You may think that a megacity of 30 million people would be reminiscent of some grungy futurisitic movie where grime and despair have invaded every portion of existence. I haven’t seen it. No graffiti. No litter. No homeless people. People are orderly and wait in lines. Women leave Gucci purses on chairs to save their place while waiting in coffee shop lines. No one takes their chairs or more importantly their purses. Everyone bows and seems polite. Shopkeepers seem genuinely glad that you have chosen to do business with them. Mothers encourage youngsters in strollers to wave back to old strangers visiting from far away. There is no tipping in Futureworld.
This has not really been a normal tourist month spent in a faraway destination. There really is not a defining example of what it is like to live here. It is too big, too complicated and too diverse to define. It is too intense to get to know intimately. There are too many crazy things at the end of too many tiny alleys in too many districts to ever see in a lifetime, much less the time I spent here.
I was wowed by the great cities of Rome, Paris and Los Angeles. They are wonderful and each stands by itself as a great world treasure. Tokyo is different. I’m not really wowed, I’m dumbfounded. At times I have come around a corner and been stunned by what I have seen. My jaw has literally dropped. It doesn’t seem fair to compare other cities to this metropolis. It is my new standard for bigger and better. Everything past this point will be compared to what I have seen here. If this is the future, I can’t wait to get there.