Dom Joly: My Tokyo shopping trip ends in beers

  • @domjoly

Tokyo is so big, so dense, so sprawling that it is more like an infinite number of villages that have been joined together by some crazed town planner. I had one day in the Japanese capital at the end of my monster-hunting trip in Hiroshima Prefecture. My plan was to take in the main sights of Tokyo, as well as getting all my Christmas shopping done in the best shopping city in the world, according to my Virgin in-flight magazine. I gathered together all the information available to me and decided I needed to visit Harajuku (to see weird manga kids), The Imperial Palace, Akihabara (electronics) and then Ginza, for some serious lady shopping. I hopped into a cab and headed for Harajuku. This was a big mistake as Tokyo cabs are eye-wateringly expensive.

After I remortgaged my house to pay the fare, I wandered over a bridge and there were the manga girls, who follow the style of Japanese comics. To say they were a disappointment would be no exaggeration. I'd imagined hundreds of weird alien youth all dressed up with nowhere to go. As it was there were two girls who looked like they used to be in Strawberry Switchblade and one dressed as a plastic nurse. I tried to take their picture but two men jumped out with signs in English saying: "You no take piktcher." I didn't bother arguing and hopped on to the underground to head for the Imperial Palace. I got to an impressive set of ancient walls surrounded by a wide moat. This was going to be good.

After 20 minutes wandering around, I realised the problem: the Imperial Palace is wonderful except... there is no actual palace, which I do think should be mentioned in the guidebooks. It's just a park full of people looking for a palace.

I popped into the Museum of Modern Art where there was an exhibition of Japanese nudes. It seemed very full. I then decided against this as it felt a touch pervy.

Half an hour later I was in Akihabara. This, I was told by everyone I met, was the best place in the world for electronic shopping. Indeed, it was so popular that the entire street had been closed to traffic so that shoppers could wander about. Again, it was not that impressive – just a larger version of all those stores on Tottenham Court Road that sell everything with a plug. I suppose I was expecting to be able to purchase a house robot or a flying car, but it was all irons and televisions.

Undaunted, I headed for Ginza and the famous "Brand Street". This is another huge boulevard, closed off to the public, that has every big name store from Prada to Tiffany's. In and out of these glitzy money palaces I went, but I ended up feeling curiously depressed by the whole experience. Just as I was about to bail out, I spotted a sign saying Beer Hall. This seemed very timely and not a touch out of place. I dived in.

It was built in the 1930s and had a very authentic Bavarian feel, complete with rather impressive old murals. Diminutive Japanese women tried their best to appear buxom and Bavarian while plonking huge three-pint glasses of Sapporo on your table. It was an extraordinary place and rather highlighted the peculiarities of travel in Japan.

In the middle of the large room sat a woman in full geisha garb, minus the white face paint. She was knocking back a huge glass of beer while typing on her iPhone. I sat back and tucked into the beer – then I ordered another. By the time this was under way, all thoughts of shopping were receding. Happy New Year... hic.