Tokyo day eight: airports, recycling and manuals

As I was about to say goodbye to Japan in the airport, I noticed the toilet came with somewhat of an intense manual. I’d grown used to the toilets and their multiple buttons over this time. Like so many things just accepted it. This brought me out of my acceptance, I was phasing back into my experience which was far away from the world I’d got to visit this past week.

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Throughout my trip it’s struck me how methodical recycling has been. Liquids, ice even was separated and careful dividing into often 6 or even more compartments.

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I was leaving but somehow knew I would be back. I am not done with Japan and it’s got experiences to share with me.

Tokyo day seven: chopsticks, textures and tea

On day six I wanted to get some chopsticks and found the most incredible shop. It was described as a ‘dizzying’ amount and that felt about right as I entered.

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The ramen place we ended up you ordered from a machine, getting a ticket print out of your order that would be brought to you. It also had a little pot of hair elastics, because of course if you have long hair flowing it won’t work out with ramen. The little details like this I now expected, whilst still delightful to note I was pretty sure would on coming back to England be frustrations – why wasn’t everything trying to make my experience as easy as it had been in Japan.

After a little wondering the Issey Miyake store appeared. It wasn’t a planned visit but on walking inside the same curation of every molecule of the experience I’d had in Harajuku embraced. The creases, the guides in cloth of how to hang each piece; it was effortless but precision.

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Shapes seemed to guide me today. The roof of the triangle shopping area had a triangle lawn to compliment. The wood glistening in rain and carefully curated blades, a pleasant breath of calm away from the bustle of shopping.

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On walking through a train station I noticed a travel book with stickers you could buy. The idea was each station or place you’d get the stickers and mark your travels in it. This mark of passing and adventures was something I’d not seen before.

In the afternoon it was time to experience tea. I’d had a lot of tea this trip but I had a goal of going to Ippodo and it didn’t disappoint. I ordered a matcha (the most expensive I’ve ever had), it was everything I hoped for. The ritual whilst was strict and guiding. You started with warm water, to clear your palette. Then the matcha, it started with frothy lightness and as you drank intensified. A small delicate bean treat of the season (Autumn) accompanied. Then to finish a small cup of tea that smelt almost too intense of smoke but tasted of delicate breeze, no hint of the smoke in taste.

Once completed the tea left a gentle trace in the bowl. A hint at what had been. It was about then the textures struck me again. The space of the tearoom was filled with a wide but complimentary range of textures. Textures had guided me through the entire trip and continued to be something I experienced. From the walls, through to paper and even the matcha bowl – soft sided but with a rough base.

That evening during our meal the bag boxes involved a napkin being placed over the top of each box. It was to dry them as it was raining, but it seemed as if they were tucking our bags into sleep, delicately placing napkins like duvets over them. The bags dozed whilst we ate.

 

Tokyo day six: furoshiki, darjeeling and slow life

On the hunt for Furoshiki (traditional wrapping cloths) that can be used even for bags, I ended up in an area next to Haraijuku. Here the slow life was embraced and it felt comfortable.

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On walking into the Furoshiki shop the wall was like an art gallery. Displays showed how to use the cloth.

As we walked through Haraijuku at times I had to check I wasn’t walking through Brighton, there was a familiarity that felt right. Perhaps it was because younger me was squeeing with delight at walking through these streets finally.

Buildings were styled with the attention to detail of movie sets, from a gothic mansion selling jewellery to concept stores. It seemed every molecule once you entered the space of a shop was curated.

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In the Apple store I noticed the bag boxes now sat perfectly in stools. The form of these struck me as so pleasing. The space could be create how the people in it wanted. Unlike a chair or a larger piece of furniture it didn’t force a type of interaction or grouping.

In the evening after walking through a quieter part of Tokyo, we found what possibly is the most intensely decorated but delightful Indian restaurant called ‘Darjeeling’. Here the flamboyant artistic performance of the server that served us added to the experience. Our food was to be served first and only after we could experience the tea he promised would be the best. It was a delightful sensory pleasing evening. We were in Tokyo but teleported far from there for a few hours. Once the meal ended we were back out in the familiar now Tokyo streets.

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Tokyo day five: signs, teamLab and textures

After attending a conference the next few days were spent exploring. The morning of day five was spent fuelling up on rice balls and discovering Akihabara.

Sitting in a carriage I noticed how the advertising delicately hung from the ceiling. Wraps around handles teetered the line between flimsy and robust enough. It feels like everything in England is pretty much glued down and has to be made to withstand. Here, the adverts hung like delicate subway leaves.

The posters which in the first few days had struck me so much now were accepted. I expected to be nudged, guided at every turn. It felt comforting. As I climbed some stairs I noticed little markers to show calories burnt. This nudge to be aware of even the slightest calorie use struck me. I kind of expect to see more of this outside Japan with the common place of health counters.

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The evening was spent at teamLab, Planets. This was one of the things on this trip I had been certain from the start to do and it didn’t disappoint. Words are difficult to explain something so based in pure experience. You enter barefoot, trousers rolled up because you’re expecting to wade through water. On entering you decompress through a corridor, at one end a pure pillar of streaming water. This is called a ‘body immersive’ art experience. It truly is.

Inside I found a happy cathedral of light. If I close my eyes I can almost feel myself back there now (I write this nearly a week since experiencing but the power hasn’t left me). At one point I sat in a room of mirrors and looked down. The floor dissolved and I saw down, down, through people and more people … it spiralled in colors and bodies became shapes. I felt dissolved but whole.

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The experiences as you moved through them were intense. Almost as important were the spaces in-between. In these pauses you got to feel the texture of the ground, carpet. The familiar light squares guiding your way down corridors. After being in water, you got to regroup your emotions and dry your feet with a towel. These breaks were like fresh air and rejuvenated.

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In the final space I lay down.  The entire space dissolved again and I found myself floating. It was meditative. Sitting up, the swaying of the visuals all around the room caused you to feel like you were drifting through space. Existing in a static space, yet moving. This truly is a fully immersive experience both of the body and mind.

Dinner at teamLab brought the most interesting food ordering app experience. There was an app you used to order, the choices were few but simple. Pick a meat or fish, then a salad. Click and checkout. It would alert you when ready. Being vegan I had to break this experience a bit, but it worked out. The little animations and way the app indicated the state was delightful.

Tokyo day four: oyaki, crossings and nudges

Breakfast on day four introduces me to cooked rice balls, oyaki. These little pockets of joy were fuel that powered me through 2 days until way past lunch. We turned up early so got to see them being made. This was about the best slow, easy start to a conference morning I have ever experienced. I watched them be filled, carefully folded and then steamed to perfection. Once cooked they were cut in half, wrapped in delicate paper and served. The entire experience was possibly the best breakfast I’ve had in a long time.

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Different subway trains have different markers. Either was still much easier to understand than the one in London for example. It showed where you were a light guided you, continuing the subtle nudging I came to expect the longer I stayed in Tokyo.

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As I crossed the road another realisation of something new happened. The crossings were not only showing red or green but also how long each phase had. This was another little nudge, a calm ‘hey we got you’. Everything felt safe.

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Walking back to the hotel for a pause before the evening, we came across a temple. Before coming to Tokyo I had expected to crave finding these temples as expected to need to oasis of calm. Whilst it was calmer than outside, it was welcome but not craved. I wasn’t feeling like Tokyo was draining me. It was recharging and easy.

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The temple had these tiny little foxes (I think) in what seemed like capes. Paper shapes resembling lightning were hanging from trees and the little buildings. This temple wasn’t an end point, it was a crossroads, a place people were walking through to get to buildings.

Tokyo day three: umbrella holders, crickets and sculptures

At night as you walk through Tokyo there are neon pockets of life. Some areas are dimly lit, more traditional, calm on the mind. Then you turn a corner and are hit with neon faux daylight. It’s jarring for a few days to swim in and out of these realities. By day three I was getting a little used to this.

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One thing that kept striking me was the sound of crickets at night. I don’t think I heard it the first night, it seemed to just appear in my ears the second and become even more pronounced the third. The little sound once noticed was everywhere.

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On the third day I kept seeing umbrella holders. As with any trip as you acclimatise to the place the things that were there all along seem to ‘appear’. It’s of course not like umbrella holders just sprung up on day three. The number of them everywhere did strike me though.  I was also struck by how domed shaped and often transparent the umbrellas were – later I would learn the sheer power of rain made this a sensible choice.

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In the lobby of the conference centre was this incredible sculpture. I began to notice on day three how much art there was just around me as I navigated through. This was delightful, just coming across pieces like this. As I interacted with the piece there was this strange, almost alien texture sensation. It resonated with me as everything was still unfamiliar but getting more understandable.

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Tokyo day two: bag boxes, pavement lines and queues

As I navigated through Tokyo on day two I got to experience the joy of the subway. The queueing was out of this world and delightful. Arrows on the floor guided seamlessly everyone to a calm, ordered flow. In a moment of delight I internally squeed at the effortlessness of the subway system.

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The machines to order tickets from on first look seemed complex but with a little thought it was easy to work out the number and then buy a ticket. I’ll note, a few days later after some wrongly brought tickets, I opted for the pre-paid pass, a little tip for future trips.

The quieter nature of everything in Japan struck me. It’s busy, don’t get me wrong, after all it is Tokyo. There is a quiet though, a pace that feels less than a busy city and was most welcome. Once you stopped overthinking things it all worked and made sense. From how machines worked through to navigating the subway. This ‘going with flow’ feeling continued my entire trip.

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Whilst walking around I was struck by how many stickers everywhere there were. These seemed an interesting combination of countries. One particular style of actual faces I’m not sure I’ve seen anywhere else.

The labelling that had on my first day struck me with delight continued as I got a label for my soya matcha. I also noticed how clearly some menus were indicated for different allergies. The graphic touches like this were making my life easier in this unfamiliar universe.

I sat in Starbucks as wifi wasn’t the easiest to find. Whilst there I observed people putting their bags down and then going and ordering food. This was incredible to see. Pretty much the rule of England is don’t leave any bag attended, yet here people felt safe enough to just leave their bag. It felt like a breath of fresh air to someone that is used to putting their foot through their bag just incase.

Another bag related observation was bag boxes. In most places next to your chair would be a little box of various types to put your bag in. I think I now want bag boxes everywhere as just makes sense.

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During a search for cash I learnt about the cornerstone of 7 Elevens. If you need cash go to these, I would later in this trip rely on these for Onigiri.

On visiting the statue of Hachikō in Shinjuku. There was a queue to take a picture with this noble dog’s statue. If you don’t know the story it’s a powerful one of loyalty, Hachikō waited for his owner even when he’d passed, becoming a fixture at the station. I was moved by this, people paying their respects to this statue, the dog that has now become a symbol of loyalty and fidelity.

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In the evening I got to cross Shinjuku crossing. It was certainly an experience and one made slightly odder thanks to so many posing Instagrammers that just stopped halfway to grab ‘the shot’.

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The evening meal was of tofu and it was made at our table. The artistry of this experience was so considered. Everything was brought to the table and then it was left for a set time, the server came back and then unpacked the newly created tofu. Next it was left to sit before getting to savour. First you had it without anything, the fluffy cloud as delicate a taste as the sensation of eating. Then the tofu was to be tasted with salt, lime and moving up finally to the soya sauce. The entire experience was considered and encompassing, a delight of the senses.

On the journey back to the hotel it was raining and as we walked through the rain in the glistening streets, we walked through a side street next to a train track. I got a flash of anime memories. The sound of the rain, the buildings, the twinkling lights and forms. Tokyo had been a place for me of movies and anime, now I was walking these streets and it felt peaceful.

Tokyo day one: doors, drink tags and washing machines

I have just got back from a trip to Tokyo, it was my first trip to Japan. A culture and country I wanted to experience for a very long time and it didn’t disappoint.

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Landing in the early morning into any country is disorientating, landing into Japan is like being teleported into a space where you have no idea which way is up. The first hurdle of getting a soya matcha revealed something I noticed the entire trip. The careful labelling of non-diary milk and a label to hand as you receive your drink, was just the start of experiencing the care and notices of Japan. As I left the airport the ‘thank you’ label on my bottle of water I purchased was another sign of those little touches that would be my experience the entire trip.

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Notices are something that I began to realise were all around me, from the lift to the wall messages about not smoking. Over the days these signs became more and more important. The guided my way, assured me and enabled me to navigate through my first journey there.

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My hotel bathroom door on day one caused a really interesting mental model fracture. After working out it opened in reverse to what I expected, I continued to take a while to not make the mistake, walking into the door a few times. This continued for a few days. It was a small thing but one my brain just couldn’t get over. Whilst a door opening towards me is hardly a new thing, I recalled my house inside doors don’t do that and as a result the experience of this fractured my mental model. Somewhat this was due to tiredness but it was interesting to experience.

As I explored my hotel room I noticed the washing machine. Unlike ones in the UK, there were no icons everywhere. Initially I was taken aback by this, however why would there be icons when the language was enough.

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The pillows in the hotel were also a refreshing change from clouds of air that you usually get. They were hard, similar to the ones you can get for neck support. Rather than having enough pillows for a pillow fort, the bed was simple, 2 minimal pillows, a blanket and sheet – all you needed for Tokyo in September.