Senses reel. Ears assaulted by amplified, sing-song advertising. Eyes dazzled by neon signs, primary colour advertising, walking stick handles in sparkling crystals supporting bowed over ancients. Incense, jasmine and even cleanliness, the smell of Tokyo.
Have to love the spectacle ‘cleaning bath’ outside the optometrist! Extra special after Juba dust.
Our Japanese secret weapon, Chiba, was waiting when we came through customs at the airport. Her flight was late, and ours was early and so we didn’t even need to think as she negotiated the trains that lead us across the city to our hotel. She then took us to a local Japanese restaurant, Takewaka, Spice 2 building, in Ikebukuro, where we had an amazing meal of sushi, seaweed, tempura veggies and a fried chicken dish. The food was presented like a small Japanese garden and tasted incredible. From a root-type thing, our attentive waitress made us fresh wasabi, which doesn’t taste anything like the tube stuff. It’s still green, but rather than a uniform grunge colour, its a host of rich green, flecked with brown. The taste, as complex.
The restaurant has a large central pond full of the fish (Bonita that is only available in May) that we ate, and tables that looked to be inches from the ground, which did have me wondering how I was going to manage. However, under the table was a drop down section for those of us who can’t mange the upright, legs folded beneath them, position with which Japanese seem to be born. Excellent.
A group of ultra happy people waved us into their Buddhist temple, where we were guided through the basic prayer. My Japanese wasn’t good enough to enquire about the Zen of Air Travel and Chocolate. Amongst the bustle of this part of Tokyo, we found the tranquility of the Kishimojindo temple and its magnificent Ginko tree. A must visit for every traveling leprechaun. Pink azaleas are still flowering, and the maple trees are showing off their maroon leaves.
An exhibition of bonsai rhododendron trees. Every branch, a masterpiece. Every flower perfect. Too perfect?
For lunch, procchutto and tomato with anchovy sauce at a Spanish restaurant. Not at all Japanese, but it was the only place that didn’t have a queue a mile long outside. They also had draft beer, which after five hours of walking seemed important.
This jet lag stuff doesn’t make for easy days of concentration. Although, leaving my business cards behind can’t be blamed for that! Fortunately, the efficient system, facilitated by Chiba, ensured that I had cards for the meeting whirlwind. More difficult than I expected, with a host of issues to be resolved.
White shirt; chopsticks; noodles (called Ramen, with Ikebukuro a leading battleground, where people queue for hours for the latest taste indulgence) in broth. The Gods laugh at my coordination skills! The food hall in the depths of Seibu, a feast of wonder that rivals Harrods. We had scrumptious duck breast, some kind of dumplings filled with strange, exotic, tantalizing flavours. The white shirt, again, challenged.
The National Gardens are beautiful. A haven of calm after the continual senses assault of the city. We ordered our meal from a vending machine, matching the pictures and numbers. Maple trees like spun silk, with delicate leaves creating a shimmer of etherial maroon.
Colour, texture and form in perfect harmony. Walking around the gardens, I have total camera inadequacy. A bit like taking wet toilet paper to a gun fight. These guys are serious! I did get my ‘camera kick’ at Yodobashi, settling for a light stand weight, knowing that I have a serious camera I have yet to master. A dozen pictures waiting to be painted.
Being lost in the Tokyo metro is a sort of right-of-passage, and although we were actually where we needed to be, if not quite where we expected. I did manage to go the wrong way through the turn style, which raised the alarm and a few million Japanese eyebrows!
We were made to feel like kings at the school in Yokohama, were we talked about the contrast between a school student in Japan, and one in South Sudan. Chiba did a sensational job of connecting with the kids, with interactive questions and sitting at their level doing the translation of my bumbling. Quite humbling, for me, it was. There was a reporter from the second largest Japanese news paper to give us coverage. Stunning origami garlands, bouquets of flowers and a song from the kids.
The lecture at Tokyo University was over too soon. The expertise of the professors infectious. Delightful dinner (French cuisine that was a haven after the days of demanding taste sensations) with conversation filled with experience and knowledge. An amazing privilege.
Sleep still a mess with jet lag creating its own schedule. Up early to get to the fresh market that was colorful and organized. None of the chaos, or colour, of the Dar fish market. We watched the fruit auction, which could have been part of a stage show it was so animated. Dodging the motorized buggies, amongst the frenetic pace, is a skill swiftly mastered. Old men, a steaming kettle between them, their day finished before most of the city has even realized its a new day.