One of the most wonderful things about traveling to Tokyo last summer was discovering the inherently Steampunk flavor in certain parts of the city. While many associate the Steampunk concepts with British Victoriana (or Western North American colonization), Japan has a completely unique perspective. Aside from the fact that (much like Disney), Japanese anime has been in love with Steampunk before it ever had a name (See Last Exile, Steamboy, any Miyazaki film ever), the Japanese inherently have a love for innovation that transcends generations.
If we were to explore all of Japan, that would take far more than just one blog post. However, I’ll touch on some of the coolest highlights from which you can start your investigation.
Tokyo houses the Ghibli Museum, which is a beautiful tribute to Studio Ghibli’s years of intriguing films filled with the dichotomy of nature and industry, with steam-powered machinery combined with distinct magic and wonder. Photographs aren’t allowed inside the museum (alas), and the films played aren’t in English. However, the entire museum is constructed like a wild Victorian fantasy, and the outside area has a great gardeny area with robot statues fabulous for your photographic poses. The shop has the biggest collection of Ghibli “stuff” anywhere, too. I recommend buying your tickets from here before you go–rumor has it they fill up quickly. They were pretty packed when we went, and it was a weekday morning…
The Japan National Museum of Nature and Science is reputed to be one of the best in the world–go explore its science departments! While you’re at it, you need to go to the Ramen Museum and see a vintage Japanese Town (as well as sample the best food from their history with China). There’s a museum for everything in Tokyo, but the vintage toy museum (including tin robots, ray guns, and a lot more of the classic retro/steampunk/pulp fiction feel) is pretty neat. The museum is called the Kitahara Tin Toy Museum, and is owned by Mr. Kitahara. It’s actually located in Yokohama, and is a little bit south of Tokyo proper in the Tokyo Bay area. The website isn’t in English, but you can get there by taking the train to the Motoma-chi-Chukagai station. While you are in Yokohama you have to visit the Shin-Yokohama Raumen Museum, which sports a replica of an old Japanese town (1950s) and lots of ramen shops all in one place.
I didn’t manage to catch any pictures of Miyazaki’s steampunk clock at the NTV Shiodome, but you can check out the article here. This working clock is the largest animated clock in the world, and has lots of cool scenes that occur on the hour (usually). This was one of my biggest targets on our first visit, and I can’t wait to go back next April and see it.
For a really interesting stroll, check out the Harajuku district–especially on Sunday afternoons. You’ll see lots of people (especially in the high school and college age range) wandering around with various cosplay, including lots of gothic lolita and steampunk styles. Only on Sunday do they break out of the usual uniforms, so time your visit! Nearby is the Meiji Shrine, which is a gorgeous historical landmark. Also nearby is the mirrored entrance to Tokyo Plaza–Aubri loved the mirrors, but the whole world has fallen in love with this mind-bending escalator ride. Take pictures in your best attire from every angle–literally.
When you wander the streets of Tokyo you will experience the old and the new mingling together for a wild, high-tech ride through history–that is the very essence of Steampunk, regardless of the time period. Drink it all in, and make sure you stop in to the noodle shops and 7-11s (really!) to eat delicious food. The Japanese know their style–and their food.
Japan is also home to the original high speed trains–catch a bullet train for fun, but use the subways to get around. Who needs a taxi when you can get anywhere by train? The lightrail in Denver wishes it were this efficient.
Tokyo is host to SteamGarden, a major Steampunk event–here’s the Tokyo Steampunk Society’s website! Tokyo has some cool bands too, including Strange Artifact, who is coming to AnomalyCon in 2014! Haruo Suekichi is also located in Tokyo, and with any luck you can get him to show you some of his amazing tinkerings.