TOKYO, JAPAN — It’s a buzz like a summer with cicadas. It’s a high E-string that never settles. It’s an ant colony — almost literally — that never slows. If you can, readjust yourself to the frequency of Tokyo, or at least have a second cup of coffee.
Like every soul that’s came before and everyone that will follow, for us, Japan started with Tokyo. Months later, I’m still not sure I necessarily “like” Tokyo, and I’m damn sure I don’t fully “get it”. But you can’t call yourself a traveler if you don’t, on some deeply confusing level, “love” this city. Love, after all, is a complicated thing.
We woke up on our first morning, if you can call it that, with the tiny clock in the head of the bed reading 12:00. Exactly. My travel-logged mind spent several actual minutes trying to determine if that meant PM or AM. Realizing it was, in fact, midday and that we were meeting a family friend in a matter of moments, we shuffled around the capsule-like hotel room and somehow dragged ourselves together.
Mitsukoshimae is dead center in the financial district of Tokyo. That means the only way is out. Tachibana-san, somewhere in his late fifties, only knows one gear: all out. After meeting this old friend and colleague of Molly’s father, we were hoofing it across nearly every corner of the city. First, into the deep: Ginza, the most expensive stretch of real estate in town. Tokyo’s Rodeo Drive or Fifth Avenue. Needless to say, we didn’t stay for long.
Turn 180 degrees from Prada and Gucci and you’ll find yourself in Akihabara — just as famous as Ginza for shopping, but a completely different treasure trove. Akiba, as it’s lovingly called, is the electronics center of the world. It sprang up after the war as a kind of black market outlet for radio parts under the elevated train. Now it’s abuzz with the latest technology, as well as a huge offering of Manga and Anime stores, game parlors, and some dark corner shops that we didn’t have the circuits to walk into. On the top of the 10 story “camera store” we had to stop to jump into some running sushi for the first time.
Next, Asakusa on the northeast side of the city, where the ancient shrine Senso-ji is protected by the god of thunder and the god of wind… and about a thousand merchants touting souvenirs.
It’s here we first learned the proper way to prepare to visit the temple: scoop up a cup of water, wash your left hand, then your right; slurp a bit out of your hand, then lean lean back the cup so it washes the handle and is ready for the next pilgrim. So precise, so logical, so Japanese. It would serve us well for the next two weeks.
Next it was to Tashi’s favorite view: Odaiba. This expanse of reclaimed land in Tokyo harbor gives you the true view of just how massive the city is. We stopped for some snacks and beer, but mostly the view. The sun setting over the harbor and the the glimmer of a billion light bulbs replacing it.
Road-weary and bug-eyed, we were still catching up to the speed of Tokyo. So it was back to Mitsu to treat Tachi to an American-Japanese treat. “Craft beer” is the epitome of Japanese gastronomy, and apparently one of the best joints in the country was a bottle’s throw away from our hotel. It just turned out they offered up some of the best Gyoza in the world along with a pricey, but tasty pint of Lagunitas (spelled out in Japanese characters).
12:00 again. This time AM. And we were starting to setting into cadence of Japan. Back in the capsule to prepare for what would come next.