Tokyo, Here I Am

“You look like a hobo,” my sister said as I emerged from my cocoon of airline-provided blanket, pillow(s) and a sleeping mask with a glorious bedhead. We erupted in laughter at the rear of a very large plane, and I was temporarily blinded by bright sunlight when I yanked the illuminator shade up too quickly. Our breakfast was being served as we neared Tokyo.

Yes, it has been a while since I boarded a long-distance flight. Expecting to be very preoccupied with the duration of the journey from Frankfurt am Main to Japan’s capital (a first-time trip for me and my sibling, by the way), I was surprised by how quickly I settled in my temporary little nest, though I didn’t finish watching Me Before You. Instead I wrote and slept, or attempted to do the latter, and listened to the stewardesses gossiping behind us. When my sister said we had already covered half the distance, I actually worried about having time to finish the second meal and get enough sleep to stave off jet lag for as long as possible upon arrival.

Tokyo greeted us with fabulous, sunny weather and a wave of warmth rolling in from outside. No trace of the typhoons that had been rocking the city for the past few days and not a speck of rain to be seen. The immediate politeness of airport staff and especially the nodding and thanking (I don’t know what I did, but I’m happy if they’re happy) was one of the first things I noticed after disembarking. And I began to worry about seeming rude, with my usual smile, nod or greeting suddenly seeming noncommittal in comparison.

We got on the Airport Limousine bus to get to our hotel and once again I (we) received a bow after a polite poster reminder to fasten our seatbelts. Plenty of fresh-looking green trees caught our eye before we got to the city with its towering skycrapers, many roads, metro trains and cars, but somehow it all made a harmonious impression together and I have always found cityscapes fascinating. Bright logos, giant screens, ads, shops and cafes became more numerous as we neared the Shibuya district, and everything that I had thought, or not thought, about Tokyo began to slowly take shape.

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Finding our hotel did prove to be a bit of a challenge after all. We got halfway and were just puzzling over the directions on Google Maps, when a Japanese gentleman politely asked us if we needed help. Normally I don’t pull a Blanche Dubois and depend on the kindness of strangers, but in this case we trusted our guts and did indeed encounter the Japanese friendliness and willingness to help (clueless) foreigners. I hope that gentleman had a nice day. He also pointed out the 24-hour Maurietus Petit supermarket right near the hotel, and the very street we were searching for en route turned out to be a little gem, dotted with several inviting local eateries and red paper lanterns that lit up as soon as darkness settled.

Tokyo has so far not thrown me off my feet. It’s big, busy and always alive, based on my first impressions, but it also has a cosyness to it, nestled in its side streets full of unexpected discoveries and quintessentially local cafes tucked away so neatly amongst the hustle and bustle of Shibuya, where we are staying, that you have to look twice to pick them out. After a delicious lunch of rice, salad, soup and pork fillet simmering in a mouth-watering mixture of onion and scrambled egs in the Mark City Mall – a convenient stop before you fully get your bearings – we were ready to start taking on our slice of Tokyo. No pun intended.

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We also needed to stay awake until the evening. Yes, jet lag, if that’s you, it has been a while.

My guidebook allowed exactly that which I had been hoping to do – simply walk on and explore. We set off towards the famed Shibuya Crossing, drinking in the sheer multitude of everything around us – buildings, cafes, fast-food restaurants, mini-marts and supermarkets, electronics stores, shops, signs, Japanese letters, pictures, billboards, music, shop staff methodically calling out about promotions, schoolgirls giggling in twos and scrolling through their (very high-tech-looking) phones. The number of people passing through Shibuya’s streets was immediately impressive, especially when viewed from a higher vantage point. Multiple rivers of humans seemed to merge and then part, but it was neither chaotic nor uncoordinated. Not one single case of pushing or tripping, just an elegant, goal-oriented mass of locals going about their business.

On this first afternoon alone I have seen more gorgeous shoes on women’s feet than I could count and more imaginative outfits than I could recreate. Everyone is well-dressed, even those who seem to be wearing simply a T-Shirt and shorts, but if you look closely, the pockets on the shorts are cut in a shape resembling the human eye (an interesting impression should the pockets be positioned on the back of the shorts) and the shirt has an understated, but artsy statement hidden in its hem. So not only well-dressed, but individually dressed. The shopping frenzy in shops marked with the magic word Sale is apparent, but since we are literally big in Japan, we only look.

A quick pre-bedtime stop at the nearest Family Mart yielded this exciting loot. Clearly the fact that even sweets include green tea make them a healthy snack. Oyasuminasai.

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