What I learned from my first experience traveling to Tokyo, Japan.
On the 20th floor of an American chain hotel I witnessed Tokyo overtake Mt. Fuji. By day, the mountain and I made intimate eye contact across the vast ocean made of buildings. The waves of the rooftops flowed between the mountain and myself.
Then, as the sun sets, the city seems to expand and Mt Fuji shrinks away as if bidding goodnight. Leaving me with the gift of seeing Tokyo’s true form in the depth of darkness. An aura of light pollution wraps the city like skin, displaying the contours of her body. Tokyo is alive.
Her work ethic is world renowned. The Japanese are known for their diligence in working until the job is done. Regardless of sleep or health, they show their commitment by logging hours. There’s even a term, karoshi, translated literally as “death from overwork”. They sleep where and when they can; on park benches, on trains, even on display furniture in shopping malls. Innovation is her brain, and innovation never sleeps.
Her heartbeat is created by the steady and reliable stops of the metro. Her inhabitants pump through train doors steadily. Even with a population of 14 million Tokyo is one of the safest places to travel. Public transportation is immaculately clean and timely. Children are free to go amongst their days unattended without fear of kidnapping or violence because the crowds around them will always keep an eye out.
For People are the blood of Tokyo. The streets and subway lines mimic veins and arteries. Together they keep the city alive. Their kindness heals, their discipline perseveres, and their history regulates their spirit. Anytime day or night, you’ll see crowds mimicking the coordination of cells. They move together and through each other completing their duties and daily tasks. Unaware of their contributions of a seemingly shared consciousness.
Her breath is the incense sending messages to the Gods. Thousands of shrines and temples decorate the booming metropolis. Some will demand your attention, while others blend into the surroundings whispering to you as you pass. Learning the differences between them helped me understand the contrast in their voices.
Shintoism claims the shrines. A signature construction of two beams laying across two columns alert you to their presence. Shinto is the primitive polytheistic belief of worshiping Nature. Open landscapes unspoiled by buildings and sidewalks, is your sanctuary. No ceilings to block your prayers to the Gods. No scripture to follow, just a pure bond between yourself and the environment around you.
Buddhist temples provide a quiet space to clear your mind. Inside, you can feel the energy wrap around you, filling you with peace. Buddha is often attributed to being the sole God in Buddhism, but in truth, he is an inspiration of how anyone can achieve Nirvana. In fact, the word “Buddha” actually means “enlightened”.
The spaces between the shrines and temples life goes on in its typical fast paced fashion. You can see it inside the neighborhoods. There’s a delicate balance between steadfast innovation of the future, and preservation of the past.
Like limbs of her body, each has a function, unique by itself but vital for the survival as a whole.
Alleyways lined with small buildings full of tiny rooms which were once used, then discarded, during WWII are now the location for freelance Bartenders. Each space has a capacity to fit 10-15 people. An intimate gathering to enjoy the bartender’s signature drinks. Turning a once sorrow filled area into unique thriving maze for nightlife escape.
Takeshita-dori in Harajuku is where the cool kids hang out. (Until it becomes “too popular” which makes it uncool and they find somewhere else to hang). It’s littered with shops selling inventive sugary treats, clothing stores, and animal cafes.
Shinjuku has the world’s busiest railway stations, transporting over two million people per day. Its surrounded by skyscrapers with windows that double as digital displays. High end fashion with eye catching architecture, red light districts, and rooftop bars. Even the neighborhoods have neighborhoods.
Tokyo opens your eyes to what’s possible. She makes you laugh and fills you with joy. She will run you ragged but delight you with grace. You can feel her strength and wonder at her magnificence. She will change your ill formed beliefs of what’s possible, morphing your doubt into inspiration. Tokyo can terrify you. She’ll throw you into her chaos, make you second guess your abilities. But she’ll also take you by the hand and guide you, opening your eyes to knowledge and encouraging your curiosity. She lives and breathes, gracefully balancing chaos, order, and beauty. She’s a force to be reckoned with. Have you met her?
Want to read more from my travels? Check out my post about Iceland here