For those who have travelled the world and seen many places, you may be not be able to relate to a sixty year old, who has never been off of North America, and his awe at visiting Japan and finding himself in the heart of one of the world's biggest cities. I know I can't do justice to the beauty of the country or the magnitude of Tokyo, but I will try.
Arriving in Tokyo's Narita airport I discovered wall art featuring traditional style paper and design ...
... followed by a zen garden, complete with (tada) plastic bamboo. It seems there are many contrasts and contradictions between the subtle and considered aesthetic traditions of Japan and the newer and sometimes garish fashions. I guess it can only be expected in a country with such a long history and so many dynamic commercial forces.
After Angela arrived from Toronto we got our Japan Rail pasess and had a macha latte in the airport Starbucks, where they played Patsy Cline and James Taylor (I know, not a very Japanese begining - but it was like the last big breath before jumping into the deep end - we had been planning this trip on e-mail and telephone so this was our only chance to connect, face to face, before the big city) and got on the train for Tokyo. Pictures wouldn't do justice to the ride through the darkness from the airport. We travelled along the outskirts of the city, past vacant storage lots and small industrial sites to what seemed to me like older commercial and residentially mixed neighborhoods, with run down hotels, old offices, apartments and houses on narrow winding streets. My first sight of the traditional Japanese roof tiles in the dim light of the old fashioned streetlamps gave me the sensation I was on a movie set and in someone else's script. The buildings got a little bigger and a little newer until, suddenly, we passed a gap in the buildings and were looking out onto a canyon of lights and TV screens on the sides of buildings that seemed to stretch on for miles. As quickly as it appeared it disappeared behind more walls and darkness. There were more of these sites before we got to our station. Tokyo seems to have dozens of downtowns.
Ikebukoro is a funky part of Tokyo and we spent our first four days exploring the city from there. But before we could do that, we had to find the Kimi Ryokan, a very cool place to stay. Thank God Angela has a better sense of direction than I do or we might still be wandering around Tokyo today. If I can offer some advice to anyone going to Tokyo, study the underground bus routes (imagine Rodin's "The Thinker" sitting in front of a Tokyo subway map) and learn at least a few simple phrases of Japanese; hello, excuse me, where is ..., how much is ..., thank you.
These were some of the landmarks we saw on our way to the Kimi ...
... and that was just in the two or three blocks from the station to the Ryokan. That's Ange, standing in front of a shop just a few doors from our Ryokan. More to come.