The people in Tokyo don’t raise their voices, talk loudly or shout. It’s the buildings that do that!
What a fabulous jumble of sight and sound is this vibrant haven of visual stimulus of lighting and music. Everything talks at you accompanied by wild flashing and pulsing light. The people meanwhile just go about their daily routine, nod and smile, and sweep the dust off whatever that thing is with the dust on it.
I can see where the electricity comes from though and just how it gets there too.
Creative utilities much! Wires, wires and more wires.
The taxis! Where did they find all those 1975 Toyota Crown sedans? Do they have a secret stash somewhere? They all seem brand new.
Urban Playlists – At most of the cafes and bars you will be listening to 60s jazz and lounge music. Perry Como, Peggy Lee and the Rat Pack crew abound. While in the stores it seems that 70s Haight/Ashbury and the Summer of Love have never left.
Street fashion is ‘edgy’ and Lolita Girls seem to have vanished into the dark corners of Takeshita Street. It’s all very dark, plain colours with some odd vinyl and mesh cut to rather eclectic and quirky lines. All very low key Zen monk with cybergoth undertones. Unfortunately I didn’t get any photos as it is frowned upon to use a camera without permission and most people were on a mission and somewhat unstoppable. But … here is a photo from my Italian fashion designer friend that shows the general impression of what I was seeing. Thank you Grendel.
Tokyo is a great city to partake of on foot. The small streets and lanes one or two blocks back from the main roads are a treasure trove of eclectic shopping and wonderful experiences.
Harajuku Jingumae became our ‘hood’ for the two weeks we were there and much exploring was undertaken.
Walking south from our base in Sendagaya, along Meiji-dori, we would be at Takeshita Street in 5 minutes. A short stop at Starbucks for a ham roll and latte then onward to Meiji Jimgumae and a cross road and Metro station. A short stroll east from here and we were into Omote-Sando which is a high-end shopping area, but also the starting point of Cat Street which then runs south to Shibuya and meets up with Meiji-dori again.
It was such a joy being amongst these happy and vibrant people, but we soon learned that you do not venture out on the roads before 10am. Nothing opens until 11am, including most cafes and local restaurants, so breakfast was Starbucks or whatever we had scored at the 7-11 the night before. But, more than that – one morning after leaving Starbucks we ventured through Takeshita Street, with closed shops, and waited at the road crossing at the end. Across the road was the exit from the Harajuku subway station. As the light indicated “cross now” we were subjected to a stampede of morose and grumpy faces bursting across the road. Obviously the happy workers had rushed out of bed and not had their morning allocation of coffee before hitting the Metro and the day ahead. Luckily we avoided being crushed and trampled and lived to shop on.
The first rule of Tokyo – Don’t talk about the morning!
One of our best ‘finds’ in Harajuku Jingumae was on the last day we were there. After another day of tramping around the back streets in 34C we found …
And we found it here …
Only about a three minute walk from the apartment was this … Deus Ex Machina where we had lunch with a motorcycle.
How could you not love this city with the serenity and calm within the chaos of sound and light that is Tokyo. The sound of crows shouting at the rain as flocks of umbrellas glide above the sidewalks.
Feels like home and a validation of personal values.
We decided to have a stay in Tokyo for a few weeks and my wife found us a small AirBnB apartment in Sendagaya at the north end of Harajuku. This looked to us like a choice spot only a 5 minute walk from Harajuku Station. Also it’s proximity to Yoyogi Park which is just behind the station and runs through to Shinjuku.
I was familiar with Yoyogi Park having stayed there in the old Olympic village accommodation in September 2000 while attending the 8th International Aikido Congress. Although my days were occupied with training sessions I did manage to get a day off to spend in Shinjuku so I did basically know my way around.
What a blast! There was still a large amount of pleasant surprises as we mooched out way around the back streets of Harajuku Jingumae, the main road and shopping outlets. The Japanese are so polite and accommodating. Even though there is not a lot of English spoken our rudimentary Japanese soon gave way to hand gestures and smiling to seal a sale or find what we wanted. I did remember some of the hand gestures that I had been shown in 2000, but you can just about ad lib and make them up on the spot.
The two main things that had an impact with us regarding the people were cellphone use and rubbish.
Nobody talks on cellphones in public, in cafes, on trains and on the street. Everything is by text or other chat services. We only heard a phone ring twice the whole time we were there.
There are no rubbish tins or trash cans on the streets and there is also no litter.
We soon figured out that on nearly every second block there is a 7-11 or equivalent and they all have a rack of bins just inside the door. One each for paper, plastic, glass, and food waste. It became almost a ritual to stop off at a 7-11 on the way home to collect some sandwiches, tiramisu, cold drinks and other food items, then drop off the refuse back at the store next morning on the way out.
7-11 have the most awesome club sandwiches and tiramisu. These are absolutely essential when you have been trudging all around the streets in 34C most of the day. By late afternoon the thought of having to get cleaned up and go out again to a restaurant was not a welcome thought. We had many meals of club sandwiches, tiramisu and Asahi Zero beer. The Japanese make egg sandwiches to die for!
Food – Well traditional Japanese fare did not get much of a look in and the Japanese take on Western food is a totally new animal. Awesome much. Everything is much less sweet and thereby much more enjoyable with the real food flavours coming to the fore. We ate a lot of things that we normally wouldn’t at home, like club sammies and tiramisu for example.
Safety – We already knew about this but it was a joy to behold. There is no petty crime or opportunity theft. People walk into a cafe and drop their bag onto the nearest seat then go off to order food or use the toilet with never a worry. If you walk off an leave your wallet on a seat someone will chase you down the road to return it.
Personal safety is always assured. The general culture is one of respect and caring.
While visiting the Japanese city of Kyoto I had the great pleasure to walk in the footsteps of my heroes and spiritual mentors, Miyamoto Musashi, Munenori Yagyo and Takuan Soho, across the nightingale floors of the Shogun’s Imperial Palace in Nijo Castle.
This was not a planned visit but happened by accident. We were staying in Tokyo and decided to take the Bullet Train to Kyoto and booked an afternoon walking tour for the following day. On arriving at the hotel we had booked on line we saw an interesting structure across the road and found that it was Nijo Castle.
After breakfast the next day we decided to go and check out this castle while waiting for our walking tour after lunch. Once inside the castle grounds we discovered the Imperial Palace, but it wasn’t until walking in the palace corridors that the penny dropped.
As we walked down the polished planks of the corridor my wife nudged me and said “listen!” I could hear the chirping and said “it must be a recording”, but no, it was a real and active Nightingale Floor. Then I saw the signs on the static displays in the audience rooms and I realised that we were in the Imperial Palace of the Tokugawa Shogun.
For some odd reason I had thought that the Shogun was based in Osaka and had forgotten that Kyoto was the seat of power at that time. Tears came to my eyes as I realised where I was and who had passed in these corridors before me. Not only the corridors but the whole castle grounds.
I never ceases to astound me just how many significant things happen in life purely by accident. Or do they?
Footnote – A Nightingale Floor is formed with close fitting polished boards with the edges not connected so that they move independently when walked on. There are also metal spikes set to the underside in pairs that cross the joins so that they rub together as the boards move, thus emitting a distinctive chirping sound. This will alert anyone sleeping inside the rooms that are surrounded by these corridors to the presence of intruders, Ninjas or assassins.