Travel Notebook Excerpts – Tokyo, Japan – June 2016

I sat in various coffee and tea shops and trains along the way, testing out a portable keyboard I bought in Shinjuku and observing the pace of life as it swirled around me. Here are a few excerpts from my last week in Japan. I hope you enjoy them. 

Goodbye, Godzilla. So long, Shinjuku.

June 11 – Shinjuku – Nihonbashi – Meguro

Vintage fabrics are finite (boro). The things we make today become tomorrow’s heirlooms.

Gave up on trains, taking a taxi to my next hotel. Expensive, but I’m getting a broader view of the city than I could below ground. The train would have been free (last day on my JR Pass and subway would have been cheap), but 80 lbs. is 80 lbs. and I’m tired of hauling all this luggage. Taxi = $36 approx. Feeling less harried, sweaty, and burnt out than I would have hauling all that stuff on a train. Gotta figure out a way to travel lighter. And travel more.

tokyo_train_neko_obiDropped the luggage at the hotel and on a subway to Meguro. Met a woman going to Kabuki in Oshima tsumugi hitoe kimono* and a Neko [cat] obi. Rhinestone obidome caught my eye so I told her I liked it, then we swapped photos and cards. She had photos of herself with a famous, tall Kabuki actor, and I showed her pictures of me in kimono from Hakone Matsuri this spring. She sparkled from head to toe, but subtly. From hairpins in her short salt and pepper hair to one sparkle on each tabi. Very elegant.

*[“Oshima tsumugi” is a special type of high quality woven kimono silk. “Hitoe” is an unlined, summer-weight kimono. “Obidome” is an ornament worn on the obi (kimono sash) like a brooch.]

Transfer at Mita station, from Asakusa (magenta) to Mita (blue) line. So many Caucasians, not tourists, in this area.
Went one station after transfer and had to transfer again. Same platform, at least. Train emptied out, went dark, then left. Now on the light green N line. Two stops until end of line (Meguro).

(Outside Meguro subway station)

Slightly terrifying: mothers on bicycles with small children. They will run you down and keep going. Kids wear helmets but moms don’t, bobbed hair flying in the wind.

June 12 – Cafe/Tea shop in Nihonbashi:

At Zen (cha)’Fe, a little cafe specializing in light lunch and desserts, plus matcha! I am happy. Got a matcha soy latte (hooray for English menu!) and a donburi with avocado and bacon. First sip of latte I got soy milk foam on my nose. Second sip I got to the matcha… it’s strong and tasty. They also offer regular matcha (strong) or American matcha (weak). I was in the mood for a latte, so there you go. Server was surprised I didn’t want to add any sweetener.

Listening to a light jazz rendition of Over the Rainbow. Relaxing.

June 13 – In a Nihonbashi Doutor coffee shop:

Imperious, young, lithe Japanese women in their high heels and slinky clothes, looking gorgeous and making the rest of us look dreary. They don’t want to get out of your way, but will if they have to. Tiny, shrunken, old Japanese grandmas who don’t give a shit and will run you down, knock you over, and keep going without breaking a stride.

Young men in their basic black or blue suits and dark shoes scurry to and from work on lunch break, running through subway gates to catch the next train. Their older counterparts move more slowly, relaxed in their station. Their suits lean towards more color, and some questionable taste in my mind, but they seem to be quite happy with a blue-black plaid or pinstripes I have only ever seen in London’s financial district. Their shoes are in stark contrast to their suits, but tastefully so, I think. Light brown with navy blue? It’s hard to say, I really don’t know enough about men’s fashion to judge.

Definitely kimono. Another Kabuki fan?

I find it interesting that no matter what some women (and even men) wear, they still look like they are wearing kimono unless you look directly at them and see they are not. The way they stand, the colors and patterns of their clothing, all make for the echo of kimono in my peripheral vision. It’s wonderful. Some people are decidedly Western in their appearance, looking American to me until I look directly at them and see they are not. This is more common with men, especially tall ones.

The rain today is soft but persistent and not at all shy. Back home rain is either pouring down or thinking about maybe misting down a bit. Most of the time it’s absent completely. This is the kind of rain that feeds the rice fields, keeps the potted garden on the doorstep green, and leads to rust in places like Kyushu where the rain comes with semi-tropical heat.

So much plastic wrap everywhere. Plastic covers for your umbrella when you enter a shop, bags upon bags within bags, boxes in bags, etc. So much waste. And tons of chopstick waste every day. We waste plastic knives, forks, and spoons in the US, but here it’s mostly chopsticks. A remarkable amount of waste. This worries me.

Things I will miss:

  • Unfailing politeness, even when standing at a crosswalk, waiting for the light to change, with no traffic, at night.
  • Minimalist style. It’s not everywhere, not by a long shot, but it works very well in a retail or hotel environment.
  • Being able to walk or take a subway or train anywhere. Can’t do that back home.
  • Combinis [convenience stores] with amazingly good food. I was looking at tins of fish in 7-Eleven today and thought of bringing some home, but no. No. Next time, maybe.
  • Tea sweets everywhere, or nearly everywhere. Happiness.
  • For some reason the humidity isn’t bothering me. It’s rather nice, makes my hair curly. But it also makes me sleepy, so… coffee.

(On a subway later)

Tall Caucasian guy massively man-spreading across the aisle from me. Dude, at least try to be a little gracious. Suck it in a bit.

He’s trying to take up less space now there are more people on the train but he really can’t. Legs like a stork. Remembering the express train out of Beppu the other day, seeing a heron on a tree above water, watching for prey.

Caucasian Man-Spread Guy wasn’t on this train. Guess I’m fond of noticing footwear on public transportation? And look, there’s another kimono.

So many different types of people on the train. Suits, casual, heels, peep toe slingback wedges, and the very tan, super skinny wife/girlfriend of Man Spread Guy.

June 13 – Last night in Tokyo and dinner with business associates:

Edomasa Yakitori – 2-21-5 Higashi Nihonbashi Chuo-ku Tokyo

Line waiting to get in at 4:30 PM. We’re first, probably due to the rain. At 5:00 a woman opens the sliding door and puts up the noren [shop curtain].

Sixteen of us standing at the bar. Chef fanning chicken skewers and stuffed peppers on the grill. Hot bottles of sake in a pan over a hot plate. Once the place is full, people are turned away at the door.

First course: Two big raw chicken meatballs [Nama Tsukune] with sauce and mild wasabi. Second course, cooked chicken. Thank goodness.

Yes, I ate it all. It was delicious. 

I hope you have enjoyed my little journey around Japan. There are still pages of notes to go through, so don’t be surprised if we head back there for a little while.


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