JAPAN - one...

JAPAN - one...

Part One: Tokyo

To celebrate our twenty years “in some kind of relationship” … as Stephen likes to explain that ours did not begin with any sort of wedding… nor did “we” begin at the same time We know we met sometime in the month of May. So, we celebrate the entire merry month! This year we planned a holiday to Japan — in October — because we are so busy in the garden in May.

Using miles we afforded ourselves business class luxe. With libations & laudable dinner service inside our adjacent pods, we could recline flat to sleep nicely,… landing 10+ hours later at Narita, the airport about an hour away by train from Tokyo. On good advice, we settled into the Narita Hilton for that first evening in Japan. Inside an extension of the familiar corporate design as the airports within which we’d been “suspended”… proved to be an important restorative assisting the inevitable adjustments into a 16 hour leap forward in time. A quiet dinner invited a good sleep.

Next morning we got ourselves organized by reserving tickets on our rail passes for the train travels we plan… being able to take the high speed trains whenever/wherever we like beyond those. The first was to travel into Tokyo station, watching as the scenery changed from rice fields to suburbs into the urban core. I had difficulty making photos out those blurring windows.

After several years not having a “proper” camera this obsessive observer of the odd niceties, the hardware, the smaller details, mundane & exalted, of new places began to explore inside the too-tight macro lens of a new Nikon… which immediately presented a steep learning curve!

On the second day in Tokyo I woke early… into a spectacularly dawning view from 47 stories above the city shrouded in a delicately misted dawning. The same view last night was sparkling city lights.

We had been delivered by a quiet, rather formal, white gloved driver with white crocheted-lace antimacassars adorning the seats. I did not know until later that all cabs in Tokyo present these accouterments.

Not before, however, I’d begun making a small collection of photos recording their slight variations…

At the same moment our luggage met the pavement in the forecourt of a brand new skyscraper named Toranomon Hills, the second tallest building in the city, containing our hotel, the Andaz, a young man, deftly identifying us from our luggage tags, greeted us with our names. Taking our roller bags in tow he invited us to follow him through a quietly-lit short dark wood passage into an elevator whisking us up to the lobby… on the 51st floor! We were led past what looked like the registration desk, into a lofty space with several large tables… heavy slabs of tropical wood. Requesting our passports he disappeared to make copies while a server offered us tea just as we were joined by a woman with fine English who welcomed us with our passports in hand to register us… all this seemed choreographed so smoothly as to match the polished surroundings. We had indeed found a slice of heaven! I rather liked being spoiled for our anniversary!

She explained the hotel occupied 5 or 6 floors at the very top & we would take an elevator down from this “lobby” on this 51st floor to our room on the 47th! I am intrigued by the interior elevators, connecting only the floors of the hotel, where the cars are decorated with delightful relief sculptures of cast paper… Quite lovely!

As I realize I’m sharing a white series, here is a huge sculpture in the garden of the hotel’s building. Its calligraphic aspects caught the eye of my doppelganger, Leo Toye, of course. The graphic & written aspects of the Japanese language fascinated me visually…

Our room had more of the dark wood slab furniture, contrasted with white walls. Stone floors in the bath & dressing area, which is capable of being divided with several heavy sliding wood door/walls into configurations to accommodate openness or privacy.

This, at our bedsides gave control to, well… ‘most everything!

The toilet, once one learns, lifts its lid as one approaches it & begins what must be assumed to be encouraging gurgles as one settles on the heated seat. It has one of those rather invisible automatic bidets which we are enjoying to explore. One chooses the temperature & pressure of various squirts, sprays & poofs… after which, walking away, to hear it lower the lid & flush while you wash your hands. Its control panel was understandably complex!

Ahh… Japanese technology! Our verb at home “to compost” simply does not apply inside this seeming flood of water.

We pulled our attention from those amenities & the view to drop back down to street level & began a walking exploration, following notes from Stephen’s cousin, Ryan, who travels here often in his work for the Mike Mansfield Foundation…

Several well planted shrines, tucked amidst the modern towers, began an introduction to the richness of gardens we would experience…gradually becoming archetypal.

We eschewed going up the Tokyo Tower, an aged engineering feat inspired by Eiffel, which once offered views now surpassed by the one of our room.

Japan seemingly becomes dense layers long lacquered into a particularly groomed & polished history.

We began walking toward the Ginza, where Ryan noted a plaza with an old steam locomotive staged outside the station, a meeting place for salary men, shedding their ties from the uniform crowd of the black suits all of them wear to their office jobs. Cell phones (ubiquitous to everyone!) in hand as they connect with friends for drinks in the warren of small “stand-up” bars or eating places of this district. A few women & younger people, but this is, as Ryan states, a local business ritual interesting to watch for awhile.

We initiated our own search for a beer & some Yakitori …. skewers of pork or chicken parts (tail to gizzard) which are the specialty in these places tucked under the arches of the train tracks above. We peered down into numerous open doorways before making an impulsive choice to share half of one of the small tall tables packed into the crowd. We ordered beers & soaked in the atmosphere, watching as the biz guys hung their black jackets on the wooden hangers on the walls already crowded with adverts. We took a rudimentary education as we watched what others were being served to approximate what we read on the English version of the menu we were given as obvious foreigners. We ordered chicken… not the gizzards, although I suspect those would have been delicious too.

Later. after more walking we shared another table with two young men in an equally crowded place, seeming more Korean, with grills in the tables. The two young men across this fire were giving each other lessons in gripping a golf club, but we took their lessons in how to order a selection of seafood including scallops in their shells big prawns & oysters, all of which we would grill ourselves. But first they brought a tightly covered big tin box with oysters & mussels steamed in sake… delicious!

We finished with raw oysters from 3 different areas… including New Zealand. We tried another of Ryan’s suggestions to drink, Shōchū which is a gentle earthy liquor brewed from rice, buckwheat & sweet potatoes often flavored with things like chestnuts. Mixed with water, juice or tea, it was interestingly odd to my palate.

The food has been amazing! We’ve eaten all sorts, including nifty rice snacks we found at the veritable “deli” found in the numerous quick-stop stores which also offered the best cash machines.

One evening we ate at a restaurant high in a tower giving us views of a very different area… specializing in shabu-shabu, which is Kobe beef, sliced very thin & cooked by a woman in kimono, in a broth. But the first courses were sushi & sashimi … then a crab tempura, presented whole before she pulled it all apart to serve. It seemed curious to this son of a beef-steak fanatic who would never have sliced such prime fat-veiled slices too thin for a grill & Poppa would never think to lay it into boiling water! But he would have stopped resisting at the first bite of tender succulence. Cabbage, mushrooms & greens were added before more slices of meat… all building a lovely soup for the end.


We would visit many more gardens than museums, but The Tokyo National Museum served as our first primer into some of the layers of this anciently complex culture, which we could only pretend to peel into such a brief appreciation.

A handsome kimono!
Robust archaic pottery…
Helmet decor…
Rich embroidery…
Hell… as depicted in one section of a scroll…
becomes Heaven in a couple feet…

Thus, Tokyo would garner more attention on a second visit… this “taste” was revealing. Cities are always studies unto themselves, being archetypal cauldrons lively in the flux of the real aeconomie…

I didn’t think I wanted to spend time in another city when my image of Japan wanted to capture something “real”… as in what functioned in the archetype of “JAPAN”. Yet this city will collect my attention again.

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