Reflections on a Wandering Life.....

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

Shinjuku. The Manhattan of Tokyo. Although it sits on the eastern edge of the Yamanote line (a circular line encompassing an area the size of Paris), it is really the "heart" the Tokyo business district. Shinjuku is a very expensive place, but fortunately I arrived at about noon, so I was able to get a lunch special at the Keio Plaza Hotel for about $20 US.

Shinjuku is one of the 23 wards in the city of Tokyo. I use the term "city" loosely, because technically, Tokyo is not a city. In fact, Tokyo contains several cities, in addition to the 23 wards. In Japan, Tokyo has the same status as a prefecture, although that doesn't mean anything to you if you are not familiar Japan's political subdivisions. The governing body is not referred to as the "city council," it is called the "Metropolitan Government Assembly." And the sign on the door of the top office does not say, "Mayor." It says, "Office of the Governor of Tokyo."

So what is it, really, that has brought Shinjuku prominence as the "Heart of Tokyo?" Part of it has to be location. But Shinjuku also has a valuable natural resource. Much of Tokyo rests on a foundation of clay or landfill. But the geology which underlies Shinjuku is solid bedrock. It is a resource which no one talks about, but which the Ward of Shinjuku relies on quite heavily, and I don't use the term lightly. Shinjuku has one of the world's largest collections of skyscrapers. I don't know if anyone has done the math, but there has to be an enormous amount of weight pressing down on the good earth from all this vertical real estate.

The Shinjuku station is the busiest train station in the world, with about two million passengers passing through every day. West of the station is the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building. The Metropolitan Government Building has two observation decks--one each on the forty-fifth floor of both the North and South towers. And the best news is that they are both free. If you look out the big bay windows to the East, you will see the park that sits behind the building. But I wasn't content to view it from a distance, so I came down here to see for myself, what has to be one of the most ironic contrasts in this country. At the rear of the park, there are several homeless people living in shacks made from blue vinyl tarps held together with ropes and large clothespins. It is strange to see these folks camping out for free in a beautiful wooded area on some of the costliest real estate in the world.

All of these make Shinjuku a very interesting place to visit, and a very easy place to visit if you happen to be in Tokyo, because it is really the focal point of the JR train system. But there is something else which draws me to Shinjuku...

I was born here. It wasn't supposed to be that way. We did not live in Tokyo. We were from the Tohoku region on the northern end of Honshu. But Mom had hepatitis, so Dad brought her to the International Catholic hospital here in Shinjuku to be treated by a German missionary doctor, so it was here that I made my entry.

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