Opening to a Different World

My pores are opening to my new world.  I’m a little like a bi-valve when I fly.  Part of me shuts down/closes and waits patiently to arrive on another shore.  If there are periods of turbulence, I shut myself off even more.

closed bivalve

My flight to Japan was truly fine, considering the distance traveled.  I did not have a window seat and my window seat mate upon being seated immediately closed the window shade and put on his tv monitor, thereby  shutting off any connection with night/day/clouds or light for the duration of flight (11+ hours).  I hunkered down, swallowed a sleeping pill, and waited, sleeping a bit.

nose

Emerging on the other side of the Pacific, I had no trouble talking myself into a taxi ride to Tokyo.  A man approached me, speaking a little English. I know I had that just-flew-across-the-ocean dazed-look that made me an easy target.  He offered to take me to Tokyo,   “Do you have a taxi?” I queried suspiciously.  He pointed to his nose!  That’s a gesture I’m unfamiliar with, but, for some strange reason,  it was enough for me to decide to follow him.  He took my luggage, pointed to a bench and just said “wait.”

As I waited for him, I thought about my really unjustified trust in this man. I was too tired to find another more obvious method of transportation.  Before long, he drove up to me in a large van with enough room for at least 12 passengers.  Or would they be 12 kidnappers who would hold me for ransom while leaving me locked up in small cell, torturing me intermittently?  Once more, I asked the man, is this a taxi?  He pointed to his nose once again. I wasn’t making a lot of headway, but I decided to get in.  I did try to check out one of the doors in case I needed to get out quickly.   It was dark and I couldn’t see a door handle.  I decided that he’d probably locked it from the front anyway. Now that my breathing was a bit stronger, I might actually be able to run 2 or 3 feet and get a head start in a pursuit, in case I had to make a run for it.

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I felt a bit of relief when he followed a sign towards Tokyo.  At least he wasn’t taking me in the opposite direction to some vacant concrete deserted building (Like I saw in Homeland) .  We rode along for miles, silently and uneventfully.  I tried to assure myself that my mind was a victim of all the awful news I’d been taking in recently.  After all, I told myself, I’m in JAPAN, a country know for being one of the safest in the world.  Or so I proudly told someone just yesterday.  Was I going to have to eat my words?   I remained vigilant, watching for signs, whenever the road offered options, that we continued to head in the right direction.  So far so good, maybe it wouldn’t be a vacant concrete building, but a place in central Tokyo?

Then I thought of a new question for my driver.  Do you know where the hotel is?  “I know, I know, nice hotel,” he responded.  I wasn’t sure if I believed him since the hotel is a new one.  I realized that question really didn’t accomplish much.  But at least he knew he was being watched.

We followed a sign towards Ginza, the part of the city I needed to go to.  Yes!  Relax, Dianne. Then just as the plane ride had ended, this car ride ended with us directly and safely in front of the hotel.  Thank you Lord.  No need for any heroics tonight.  My defenses relaxed as I entered the comfortable world of the Japanese hotel. I felt relieved and happy as I deposited my baggage and went out for a leisurely stroll, with no need to run from anyone.

A few pics taken:  and a p.s.  in the light of day, I figured out that pointing to one’s nose, must mean, it’s mine!

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street dude
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NIssan showroom

so slick

THE SLICK, THE BAD AND THE COOL

Tokyo can be overwhelming for a small town girl from Kyoto.  It’s big. It’s full of people. It’s sprawling. It’s an endless parade of new anonymous sky scraping buildings going up up up.

On a micro level, it can be pretty fascinating.  I’m now talking style, museums, architectural wonders and a lifetime of restaurants that can satisfy any glutton’s appetite!

It’s got a darker side too, which we inadvertently got sucked into while looking for some evening’s entertainment that would be fun for a 14 year old.

THE BIG CITYIMG_4180 IMG_4189

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THE STYLISH

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THE SLEAZY

We should have been smarter, but we easily got sucked into possibly the most advertised tourist trap in Tokyo. The ads were everywhere, and convinced me it would be a fun evening out for a multi-generational family. One Trip Advisor review promised “enthralling choreographic routines.”  That should have been the tip-off.  Not one mentioned feeling uneasy about the location of the venue!

Little did we know, the show would be two floors underground, in a basement performance space.  With each step we descended, my inner warning bells grew louder, but I didn’t want to play the role of a spoiler for the rest of our group.  My father’s sister had died in the infamous Coconut Grove nightclub fire in Boston, and growing up, I’d learned the fire trap lesson well.  So well, that in looking back, I’m surprised I even took the first step underground!

There was only one exit up the staircase that quickly became blocked as the extravaganza began, on the basement floor which served as the stage.  My wise daughter looked distressed and soon announced that she was too uncomfortable to remain in this place and departed.

Below is a taste of the strange and garish show that unfolded before us. The scantily clad female performers worked very hard, but it was hard to find artistry or even entertainment in this dystopia. Sadly. I doubted that these women barely made a living for their performances, repeating three tiresome shows a night. IMG_4281 IMG_4296 IMG_4288 IMG_4289

If the club wasn’t such a fire trap, I possibly could have enjoyed the show as an example of ultra high camp and visual overload.  As it was, after a quick family discussion during a break to sell drinks and products, we beat a welcome and hasty retreat, climbing back up one step at a time, closer to freedom.  I could only shake my head in wonder that we were the only ones to leave.

Kyoto feels like a small town after visiting Tokyo. Riding the wonderful Shinkansen, we were “home” in less than 2.5 hours, covering a distance that’s the same as between Santa Barbara and San Francisco.  It’s a great and easy big city getaway.

History has been kinder to Kyoto. It was spared  the brutal firebombing of WWII that leveled Tokyo. I am grateful for the remnants of layers of Japanese history that are abundant here. They create a strong sense of place.  Although, ever evolving as it must.

TOKYO=SUSHI

sushi piece

Tokyo=sushi or is it sushi=tokyo? Tokyo is the epicenter of the best sushi in the world.  Tokyo is the place that launched sushi into the modern age and propelled it around the world. You can buy sushi here at 7-11, pick it off a conveyor belt, eat it as a snack, or enjoy a high-class dining experience at a high-class establishment.   Eating out last night in Tokyo at an upscale sushi restaurant proved to me that nobody does it better.

Can we just focus on the atmosphere for a moment?

Picture a cinnabar red lacquered counter at least 50′ long.

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Add half a dozen hair shorn sushi chefs, the equivalent of modern-day samurai, wielding knives with the skill of a surgeon.The atmosphere is serious but decidedly cordial.

Orders are shouted and relayed from chef to chef in deep baritone voices that all concerned take heed of.

The straw basket pictured below contained the sushi rice. Each chef had one by his side. All implements, dishes and sauces  were within reach of each master chef.IMG_4327

There is NO music playing in this restaurant.  REPEAT!!  There is NO music playing. It would be a distraction in this most mindful of settings.  The banter between the clients and the chefs provide the perfect soundtrack.

Very few sushi items placed on our plates required soy sauce.  They’d been seasoned individually.  We were explicitly told not to add soy sauce.

When a sushi chef retreated to the kitchen, they faced their customers as a sign of respect, before walking backwards into the   noren curtains.  Nice touch.noren

R E S P E C T!  You did not come here to eat a California roll, but to eat the freshest , most meticulously prepared fish that the world has to offer.IMG_4330

DIGGING POP CULTURE IN HARAJUKU, TOKYO

If you’re with a 14 year old on a Sunday in Tokyo, it’s a no- brainer to join them in a Harajuku foray, the epicenter of pop culture in Tokyo.

In this case, a picture is most definitely worth a thousand words, so here’s some highlights of our day:

Our spirits were high as we began our immersion on Takeshita Dori, in a crush of young women, tourists, hawkers, vendors and noise!Takeshita Street

The most interesting encounter of the day was the creature in pink, not sure how to classify!creature in pink

I was the only one in our group who could have spent more time in this circus, so we moved through as quickly as the crowds would allow, although if on my own I could have easily enjoyed some more intent exploration.

The streets surrounding Takeshita were cheek to jowl with all kinds of  creative dress up items, which led to some inspired browsing. FYI, there are about Y120 to the American dollar.IMG_4091 IMG_4090 IMG_4089

In the sneaker department, this was just the tip of the iceberg of footwear. Some places don’t like you taking pictures, so you’ve got to be fast and/or charming to get away with it.IMG_4103 IMG_4104The yukata is the traditional Japanese summer robe, worn at onsen, or at festivals.  It was interesting to note that designers have taken to updating the look for young, contemporary taste.  It was surprising to learn that these limited edition items can sell for $500-$1000!IMG_4111 IMG_4112

Along the way, we met a few new friends.IMG_4102 IMG_4096IMG_4108What a wide and wonderful world we live in!