- IT’S MINIMAL.
When I get on the train the first thing I notice is the tiny brick and tiled houses squeezed in-between bigger apartments and wonder which came first, did they build the big around the small? I guess so. I wonder what it used to look like. The next thing I notice, out the left-hand side of the train, is a tiny deck not big enough to stand on, with three white t-shirts in varying degrees of thinness, hanging out to dry. I turn to look out of the right side window and I see an equally small deck with three identical army-green work jackets in varying degrees of fade… That’s it, this 30kg bag of mine is too much and I need to become a minimalist.
- OH WAIT, IT’S NOT ACTUALLY THAT MINIMAL.
During our week-long stay, we walked from Shibuya to Shinjuku to Harajuku to Odemesando and looked and shopped and walked and window shopped. It’s never-ending, there’s always more to see, and boy, do they do vintage. As we walked around and continued to see more and more at EVERY SINGLE TURN, the vintage stores got larger than most I’ve seen, and the department stores are several storeys high, or low, depending where you are. Tokyo Hands is one truly enormous store selling way more than you could ever want, it’s about seven levels high! I spent a long time looking through washi tape and stickers and musing over why there was a “stationery” level AND an “arts and craft” level. I saw bread in a can, really unsure about that one.
“As we walked around and continued to see more and more at EVERY SINGLE TURN, the vintage stores got larger than most I’ve seen, and the department stores are seven stories high, or low, depending where you are.”
- IT’S NOT THE MOST ACCESSIBLE CITY.
I hauled my 30kg suitcase plus camera-filled backpack and laptop-filled handbag through four stations, across three train changes, the list goes on. Tokyo does not have as many elevators as I expected, for such a tech-savvy country. For someone with a disabled loved one, I’m always conscious of accessibility, and Tokyo definitely isn’t high on the list of easy vacation spots! Nevertheless, I made it to my accommodation, sweaty as all heck, showered, changed and went straight out for coffee (which was delicious!). I found iced lattes to be substantially better than hot ones, something about their milk to espresso ratio, just a wee tip there.
- VEGETABLES ARE HARD TO FIND.
There is so much to consume, and therefore, a lot of waste in Tokyo. To give you an idea, there was a single banana packaged in plastic at the 7/11. The majority of their restaurant and pre-packaged food consists of rice and either raw fish or fried meat with only the occasional addition of shavings of carrot or cubes of cucumber. So if you’re a rather healthy eater, you’ll want to find one of the (abundantly stocked) supermarkets and steam up some nutrients at home. I recommend Takashimaya food court, which was the biggest most overwhelming food courts I have ever seen, the range of food on offer was insane. There is also a supermarket attached!
- THEY ARE VERY RELAXED.
Over coffee one day I found myself chatting with an American anthropologist named Mark, who was waiting for his wife to finish having her hair done across the road. It’s their little holiday ritual, he waits in the nearby cafe while she gets her hair done. Sweet. He spoke extensively about the calm nature of Japanese people and says that he thinks this is because they experience earthquakes so regularly – life-threatening occurrences are part of their day-to-day lives, they’re accustomed to it. So minor fears or irritations are so irrational, almost non-existent, which really puts into perspective the various petty worries we allow to consume us, while safe and sound at the centre of our tectonic plate.