Summer in Tokyo

by jiawenp / Aug 20, 2012 /

I remember tripping over myself in my dash through the automatic doors that separated Narita airport and the outside world for that first breath of Japanese air – of the late spring/early summer cool that I had romanticized for the last 6 years. Strangely, it was the first time that, when landing in a foreign country, I didn’t feel like I was out of place, but rather, surreal – like an explorer who finally steps off the shaking waves onto the home he had been dreaming of. All I could think of, as we rode the bus to the city, and the countryside fell away to concrete, was that everything was so beautiful and often did I long to see this that was finally here.

 

The early morning of GMT+9 Japan, as seen from the airplane window.
The early morning of GMT+9 Japan, as seen from the airplane window.

 

Wellwishes at the Meiji Shrine in Harajuku

Wellwishes at the Meiji Shrine in Harajuku

 

Mikuji at the Sensoji Temple in Asakusa, where people pay a 100-yen to shake the can, get a stick, and then their fortunes.

Mikuji at the Sensoji Temple in Asakusa, where people pay a 100-yen to shake the can, get a stick, and then their fortunes.

 

Whenever I travel, I like to walk – a little to avoid the infamous Tokyo rush hour and general squishiness of the trains, but largely to see things off the beaten track, and to take a step away from all the noise and inauthenticity that is the tourist experience. Moreover, it had become, for me, so easy to head to the nearest sushi joint and ingest rolls of sticky rice wrapped in seaweed, and to forget for an instant that “bento” isn’t just a huge mound of rice and a tiny portion of salmon that just happened to be served in a plastic sectioned box. Tokyo reminded me how inauthentic everything, which I had begun to accept, was.

 

Bento from the supermarket with 3 kinds of rice

Bento from the supermarket with 3 kinds of rice

 

It was particularly important, in Tokyo (which I came to realize was both the busiest and quietest city) between just a block of walking, I can go from being in the middle of a pulsating crowd, to being the only person on the road for miles. And if you ever get sick of the madness that is the city, the mountains (Takaosan) and the sea (Enoshima) are just under an hour away.

 

http://farm9.staticflickr.com/8299/7813244954_a8e9d31889.jpg Sensoji Temple in Asakusa ; A few minutes later somewhere in between Ueno and Asakusa
Sensoji Temple in Asakusa ; A few minutes later somewhere in between Ueno and Asakusa

 

Enoshima, Kamakura, a seaside town where people surf and fish, and it really feels like Summer

Enoshima, Kamakura, a seaside town where people surf and fish, and it really feels like Summer

 

The best thing about Tokyo was that I got to practice my Japanese – I learnt that Kinokuniya in Japan wasn’t just the mega bookstore, but a supermarket and a hotel chain, even, how to tell the cashier at Starbucks in Kamakura that “I don’t need this bag,” and how to order food and use the Suica (ticket machines), all to pretend and feel, even for the slightest moment, that I was one of them - that I had found somewhere 7 hours and 3000 miles from home where I could say that I belong. And even if you don’t speak much Japanese, most of the locals speak English, and you could use a guidebook to get around.

 

Climbers descending from Takaosan

Climbers descending from Takaosan

 

Tokyo isn’t like any city I’ve visited – everywhere I go, I can’t stop thinking that “I’ve seen this in the books (and by that I mean manga), in the movies (anime),” and it’s really strange to have the malleable impressions I had of this city thrown to the ground and reconstructed before my eyes. Truth be told, it’s one of the most fascinating places I’ve ever visited.

 

Akihabara

Akihabara

 

Replica of the Statue of Liberty, and the Rainbow Bridge, which looks like New York’s Brooklyn Bridge in the futuristic Odaiba

Replica of the Statue of Liberty, and the Rainbow Bridge, which looks like New York’s Brooklyn Bridge in the futuristic Odaiba

 

 

 

 

Jiawen Pek is a member of the Youth Travel Blogging Mentorship Program.

 

All photos courtesy and copyright Jiawen Pek