I arrived in the mighty metropolis of Tokyo after a sleepless ten hour flight from Australia. Dazed by the bright morning light, I heaved my bags through a sea foreign faces. Unknown to me, I was walking into a spring holiday and people had flocked to the Asukasa area to celebrate. It was one of those rare, first warm days where everyone feels the need to escape outside. The change of season finally sets people free from winter’s cold confinement. Asakusa is a popular area for tourists and locals alike and on this day was swarming with people. I instantly was swallowed by the crowds feeling heavy and struggling to keep my wits together. Yet even on zero sleep with the weight of my bags slowing my pace, I was fascinated by the city instantly.
Each day I took on Tokyo with an eagerness I don’t normally have in big cities. I felt the urge not to miss out on what its streets could show me. I searched out the neighborhoods that called out to my senses. I shopped under the pink lights in Harajuku and ate cotton candy with wide eyes staring at the Japanese girls. Their doll-like fashion statements were pretty entertaining. Sweets and cuteness reigned in this neighborhood making me feel quite bland in my black baggy pants and dark sweater.
On a clear day, I marveled at the skyscrapers that grace Tokyo’s skyline. The Sompo Japan Building with its sweeping lines leading up to the clouds caught my eye. My tiny form was dwarfed many times in the enormity of the city.
I was in awe of the chaos amidst extreme order. I joined the swarms of people in ‘The Scramble’, crossing the famous Shibuya Crossing with hundreds of others. Afterwards, I watched the order return as traffic flowed efficiently again past the dissipated crowds. The area of Shibuya that scatters out from this hive of energy is a collection of neon, fashion and food. It was here I had food served on a sushi train and laughed as my dinner zoomed up and stopped in front of me. Afterward, I wandered home under the bright lights and through alleys, dazzled by hues of electricity.
In contrast to the bright shopping streets, I also sought out neighborhoods filled with history and character. I walked for hours in Yanesen, plodding along from shrine to shrine and weaving in and out of small shops. A mud wall from the Edo era is still standing here and gives the impression of walking back in time. The Nezu Shrine in this area was a delight to find and a quiet retreat in the middle of a metropolis. Its tunnel-like walkway of red torii gates drew me in and made for a relaxing afternoon.
As the daylight faded, my favorite neighborhood to explore at night turned out to be the one that first blinded me in the daylight. Asakusa is a ward that is decked out with charm, free of cars and full of people enjoying its character. Japanese art, trinkets and charms are for sale here. Kimonos decorate shop windows and the scent of freshly baked sweet bread fills the air in the mornings. The main attraction is the great Senso-ji shrine with its enormous red gate dazzling tiny tourists below.
At night the crowded streets grow quiet and the alleys are lit with paper lanterns. Soft circles of color glow bright against dark wooden buildings and beckon you to wander around each turn. It’s amazing the change of pace between 2 and 7pm, the tourists have all but disappeared and peace and quiet fill the lanes. From appearances, one wouldn’t know they were wandering through the biggest city in the world.
I remember feeling anxious about coming to Japan. It intrigued me, yet its extreme foreign aspect sacred me. It was a complete unknown entity so of course it instilled a little fear. A large city like Tokyo was something I knew I could handle, but I was wary that it would wear me out and disappoint me. My worries were unnecessary as most are, and I found myself energized by the pulse of Tokyo. It is a city full of fun, vibrancy, mystery and history. Each day it did wear me out, but in the way a child gets tired after a birthday party. They run around until they collapse from all the presents, fun and excitement. The city was a celebration for my senses, like opening a gift and discovering it’s better than you what wished for.