On Location: Tokyo
15 hours on a plane.
An hour through customs. An hour wait to catch a train. The sun sets during the hour-long train ride into the city. The landscape moves from rural countryside to an unending LED-lit rise of glass and concrete and men in suits. Tokyo – the largest city in the world.
As the train moves its way into the subterranean square mile train station in the center of the city, the rush begins. The door opens to a mass of escalators and thousands of people moving without silently – hurried, but ordered, to their next destination. Time to catch a cab. Another hour to the hotel. Check in, grab room service, and crash. Mind racing – full of that brief glimpse of density, steel, and pace. Somewhere inside, there stirs a greater connection to things that have been moving over centuries. A connection (though on the surface, foreign) to the slower movement of history.
As day breaks, the city slowly wakes into life, doing so in its own unique and distinctly Japanese way. It’s a thing that takes time to understand. A sense of history is intrinsic in this culture. History is revered here. This innate reverence seems to pulse even in the madness of a thousand people at a single intersection waiting for traffic signals to green-light ordered chaos.
While Tokyo can seem overwhelming in its immensity, the city exudes an intoxicating beauty. A beauty expressed not in scale, but in diminutive focal points of serenity. A single maple tree on a concrete porch that has been manicured weekly for 30 years. An 80-year-old man sweeping the footsteps of a decades old temple with a bamboo broom every morning at 4:00 a.m. Tokyo is a connection to smallness juxtaposed. The mystery of centuries old stone walls.
In every corner of the city exists a place to find this kind of connection. This discovery can be found in the perfect execution of a meal shared in a 10-seat restaurant. It’s in the smile of the chef who is sweating over a two burner stove. A place where laughter and food transcend the barrier of language and culture.
It’s in international hotels where the lonely, traveling executive finds a place to talk football, surrounded by cigarette smoke and after-hours businessmen abandoning pretense. There is life in eating ramen at 2 a.m., after singing karaoke and drinking beer with former strangers, now friends.
One can find, if you are open and patient, a stillness – experienced while sitting for hours in silence on a park bench during sakura blossom season – that is at once in and out of time.
Sometimes this aura can be accidental. Like stumbling across a back alley coffee shop on the fifth floor of a nondescript building and experiencing a perfectly executed cup of coffee – then finding said shop also contains a bookstore that would be at home next to the MOMA in San Francisco.
If by chance (or saving money or expense account) one finds him or herself in this place called Tokyo, be overwhelmed. Let the lights and sounds of Shinjuku blind your senses. Then, slow it down. Feel the heartbeat of a city expressed in formal gesture and miso soup. Where things are small – less about concrete and glass high-rises and, rather, about generations of passed down tradition. And there exists the real heartbeat of the largest city in the world – in a place where there is time and weight and perfection.