Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Camel-san Diaries 1: Tokyo impressions

Tokyo is an amazement. This is my first trip to the city and from the moment I land at the airport this morning, if I could sum up my impressions with one word, it would be this: Tokyo is thoughtful.

From the perfectly toasty toilet seat in our hotel room, to the note from the housekeeper asking you to help conserve the environment and think twice about having your towels washed everyday in aid of the environment (if you decide to skip a day’s cleaning, they reward you with a 1,000 yen voucher to be used in the hotel convenience store), to the way the space in the bathroom where your face is never ever fogs up, no matter how hot your shower.

This place makes you want to be a better person. D and I arrive at 7 am Tokyo time this morning, me really crabby from an uncomfortable plane ride due to the sudden onset of a cold and sore throat just as I board the plane. But as soon as I get off the plane, and feel the cold rush of the 4 degree Celsius air on my face, to the choruses of konnichi wa, from pretty much every single employee I pass at Narita, it’s really hard to maintain the grumpiness.

Our hotel is right at the foot of Tokyo Tower, the Eiffel Tower lookalike that attracts tourist buses like ants to a doughnut. It’s right next to Zojoji Temple, a shrine dating back to 1393 with a massive gate. After a long nap in the morning to shake off the cold, we emerge at noon to wander around the grounds of the temple.

It’s Spring Equinox, and a public holiday in Japan, so there are heaps of local tourists around as well, along with regular residents who spend the afternoon cleaning up the graves of their loved ones. The cityscape is dotted with immaculate parks and little picnic spots. Heaps of families have picnics – amazingly quiet, inclusive affairs that even a large group of 10 picnickers seem to form part of the peaceful landscape rather than an intrusive force.

D and I are inspired and go to a nearby combini to get some picnic food – I get sushi rolls and a giant waffle/sponge cake thing, D is lulled by superior packaging into buying what is essentially a white bread, chocolate spread sandwich. “But the bread looked so soft,” he lamented while watching me gorge ecstatically on my sushi and giant waffle.

The sun is out, the sky is clear blue, and everyone around is just doing their own thing and enjoying the day. Amazing. Despite embracing modernity, the Japanese just seem to me to be so in tune with nature. From the cycles of the seasons, to the elemental power of water and the deep resonance of stone. Every where I turn, I see, and feel, balance. It’s incredibly reassuring.

Anyway, eep, getting a tad philosophical there. So after our wander it was time for D and his work contingent to attend a function at the Australian Embassy. Left to my own devices and still slightly hampered by my darned cold, I go check out the nearby bright lights of Roppongi!

My mission is to find a fun place to dine alone. I find it by chance, when I veer off one of the many side alleys. The hole-in-the-wall restaurant doesn’t have an English name, nor a menu in English. I’m lured in by the cosy yellow lighting through small windows, and the fact that there is a grizzly old man in a spunky Adidas red windbreaker nursing a sake at the bar and watching the world go by. I go in, and point lamely at a random item on the menu whole time saying arigato, arigato. I hope that it’s something soupy, and I almost get my wish – I end up ordering a stew with pork and pickles. And by pork I mean all parts of the animal – yeesh! But it’s surprisingly yummy and I eat most of it. The three guys that run the bar all smile at me encouragingly; one is missing four front teeth. I wonder how and when that happened.

But the cold gets better of me, and as I stumble out into the cold after that hearty meal, the temperature has plunged back down to 4 degrees Celsius again. Thank god for my trusty leather jacket and boots. I navigate the trains, never once peeking at my Lonely Planet (yay! I leave my hapless backpacker persona behind) and walk back to the hotel.

There’s free wireless here. I have my laptop and I’m all cosy with a hot cup of roasted tea.

Tomorrow morning, I will wake early and go to the Tsukiji Central Fish Market. Over US$15.5 million of fish is sold here daily. And some of the merchants have been at the market for over 20 generations.

So who knows where the day will take me? I’m not fussed at all. I’m on the road and loving it.

1 comment:

uncle dick said...

Just to let u know , am enjoying your live reports. keep it coming. Has snow fallen in tokyo yet? mum said," enjoy your bento ".And I say enjoy yourself. BTW, what you've described sounds and feels like our shared experience last Dec, too.
take care, luv