There's only one place this could happen

There's no one in Arashiyama today.

At least, it feels that way.

Kyoto can be a place of camera-toting tourist hordes but in this out-of-the-way suburb on a grey, drizzly day it's almost deserted. There's the bob of a few umbrellas and the dash of school kids; other than that, all is quiet in Arashiyama.

Wind rustles softly through autumn leaves. Rain pitter-patters on umbrellas. We step into the grounds at Nison-in temple and it seems an attraction all of our own.

Cut to Tokyo. Twenty-four hours later we're at an underground nightclub in the bowels of Shinjuku. This area is the heart of the city's seedy underbelly, about the only place in perhaps the entire country that could be considered "dodgy".

Music is blaring, hard and heavy. Lasers carve neon gashes through the air. Women in gold, spiky bikinis dance while a couple of 3-metre-high robots make their way across the floor. The crowd cheers as the girls twirl and the robot shuffles and a giant Kung-Fu Panda appears on the stage.

Japan. Where else but Japan? Where else could you have these two disparate experiences in the space of about 24 hours? Where else could you find ancient and peaceful, and modern and crazy, in such fierce proximity?

Wind back to Kyoto, to the temples of Arashiyama. On any other day it would be full of people but the persistent rain has persuaded most visitors to stay inside today, enjoying some of the city's covered attractions.

It's only the hardy few with the decent umbrellas and the tight itineraries who have taken the train out to Arashiyama, happy to wander through the ancient city in wet shoes and squelchy socks.


It's just a short walk from the train station to the area's first attraction, the bamboo forest, an amazing patch of vegetation that must be 10 metres tall. The bamboo branches meet over the top of the path like a guard of honour, guiding visitors towards the temples and gardens inside.

Today, the path is bathed in soft green light, with barely a soul to appreciate it.

My socks, however, are very squelchy, so my partner and I decide to wander through just one temple today, choosing at random. Nison-in looks fittingly serene so we pay our entry fee and walk in via a stone path, up the mountain that's awash with the yellows, reds and greens of autumn.

There's nothing to do here but appreciate the tranquillity of a place the Japanese have been coming to to relax for hundreds of years.

The feeling of peace seems to be as meticulously planned and perfectly executed as every other part of life in this country.

It's a feeling, however, that's yet to invade Shinjuku.

The bamboo groves are gone. In their place stand towers of lights, glowing signs of fluorescence and neon. They seem to stretch over the top of the busy road, the one that's shoulder-to-shoulder with people even at this time of night.

This is Tokyo at its darkest and most interesting, a Murakami-esque cityscape of skyscrapers and lights, of gentlemen's club touts and salary-man clients, of gawping tourists and overdressed girls in knee-socks and heels.

We're here for one of Tokyo's most unlikely tourist attractions: the Robot Restaurant. It's set in Kabukicho, the dodgiest part of Tokyo's seediest area, but that doesn't deter the punters, who, even on a forum as conservative as TripAdvisor, have voted it somewhere near the very top of the city's attractions.

It's a temple dedicated to the gods of over-indulgence and sin. The entry foyer is a shrine to bad taste, a room covered in mirrors and glowing tiles and multi-coloured chandeliers.

This whole experience would be incredibly tacky if it wasn't so hilarious. Inside, diners are placed on grandstand-style seats with a perfect view of the wide space in front. Food is served in bento boxes but it's horrible and no one comes here for the food.

They're here for the show.

The lights fade, the music starts doof-doofing, the lasers fire, there's an almost audible pause before what's probably the funniest, most bizarre show you've ever seen begins.

Girls dance in their gold bikinis, grinning as if there's nowhere they'd rather be. The Kung-Fu Panda comes out to fight some sort of cartoon villain, complete with oversized comedy weapons and a few special effects.

There's a roller-blading robot warrior wearing an afro clown wig. There are action figures on single-wheeled motorbikes. There's a full-sized neon-covered army tank and a fleet of three-metre-high robots carrying yet more dancing girls in bikinis. They wave and fire pretend lasers into the crowd.

Japan, I'm thinking to myself. Where else but Japan?

Have you experienced something crazy in a country that couldn't possibly happen anywhere else? Share your stories below.



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