Today I wake up to find that the hostel has been decorated with ‘Happy Halloween’ signs, spooky spiders, and multi-coloured pumpkins and bats. Thinking the staff might have got the date wrong, I ask, “You do realise that Halloween isn’t for another month?”
The reply from the receptionists, “We know, but it looks so cute!” Fair enough.
I take two different trains to Kōtō, to the Tokyo International Exhibition Center, nicknamed ‘Tokyo Big Sight’. Today is an event oddly called, “Japan Travel and Tourism Association Tourism EXPO Japan.” The annual event is to increase awareness of tourism in Japan, and to promote different countries and cultures from around the world. The exhibition centre is massive, looks like a spaceship about to take off.
Tokyo Big Sight opened up in 1996, and will be the main broadcasting centre for the Tokyo 2020 Summer Olympics. The area outside is flourishing with well-kept plants, perfectly cut lawns, benches, art pieces, and sculptures. The area inside contains an eight-storey conference tower, the East Exhibition Halls, and the West Exhibition Halls.
Today I head to the East Halls, six in total but merged to form two massive halls for the event today. Inside I am greeted by megaphones and mega queues. I arrive just after 1 pm, queue for half an hour, before paying ¥1300 entry fee. I begin my tourism journey in East Hall One.
The exhibition includes booths from 150 nations and regions; all here to increase tourism in their respective countries. Booths from the 47 prefectures of Japan are here too, to spread awareness of local culture. Everywhere I go I am handed bags of souvenirs with a specific emphasis on one country or prefecture. Mock passports are available, with the aim of collecting ‘fake’ air travel stamps from the many different countries representing here.
As I wander around, I spot two Japanese women dressed as Geisha.
The Geisha are here to promote the area of Nihombashi. I am handed an envelope containing a fake boarding pass, and loads of smaller flyers advertising their area. One of the flyers describes Nihombashi as, “The crossroad of past and present – dive into an array of unique Edo experiences.” It also features advertisements for the local food outlets in the area, coupons for tea ceremonies, and adverts for shops that sell traditional crafts and gifts.
East Hall Six contains a massive RV show, which is of no interest to me. East Hall Five is littered with stands from outside of Asia. East Hall four contains stands for the many Japanese airlines and corporate companies. I continue my wandering around, getting more and more free flyers and bags of promotional material. It seems every stand here has some form of entertainment or a weird mascot. The Okinawa stand even has an aquarium showcasing many of their tropical fish.
There is a section promoting Japanese Traditional Crafts, another section to celebrate the 400th anniversary of the death of Tokugawa Ieyasu. Robot Restaurant even has a stand here, robots and scantily clad women are here to drum up a little business. Pocari Sweat is giving a talk about how they are going to land on the moon. Everywhere I walk drums sound in the distance.
As well as having an aquarium, Okinawa is also having a live dance and drum show. Men from Kanazawa Prefecture balance from dangerous looking ladders whilst wearing traditional robes. A famous female vocalist is singing on a stage, but I am not allowed to take photographs. The people of Switzerland are dancing. A sign saying, “Meet South Africa,” hosts a live percussion show.
Egyptians dance too. The Taiwanese perform a circus act. China has a folk dance. South Korea has a performance from an all-female K-pop band, followed by a live talk show; again, no photography is allowed. Many more stands are giving talks. I have a nice chat with the people of Bhutan, a country I have been interested in visiting for quite some time. I also check in on the Maldives and talk about Climate Change, and their government’s decision to go carbon neutral. I even have a random chat with Brianna Acosta, better known as Miss Hawaii 2013.
I wander around a bit longer, enjoying the many dances, mascots, and people dressed as samurai. Overall the exhibition is pretty good; it offers an excellent chance for the people of Japan to learn about other cultures, hands on. At the same time, there is plenty to learn about Japan here too.
Eventually, I tire and take the two trains back to Asakusa. Here I eat at an Italian restaurant. The Japanese owner comes to talk to me after my meal and starts asking loads of questions. Apparently, he sees me almost every day and wants to know where I am from and what I am doing in Asakusa; he’s just curious I suppose. When I go to pay, he randomly gives me a ten percent discount. “Grazie!” I say to him, but ironically, he doesn’t speak any Italian. Unbelievable.
Read the next part of my Journey in Japan, where I explore a model exposition, before learning about an ancient myth that involves being possessed by foxes by clicking here.
Or alternatively, click here to begin the journey from part one.