Traveling light in tokyo
A travel essay
Travel light. That’s what people tell you ever so often. Then referring to the amount of clothes and stuff you put in your luggage. To me traveling light is not about the number of bags you bring, but traveling light is traveling alone. Being free to move swiftly, or not at all if that what suits you at that moment. Especially when visiting the metropolis Tokyo, where eating alone is more than common and people watching as well as the choices for how to spend time are endless.
I wake up to 18°c and sunshine, warmer than usual for a November morning. Getting dressed while having a cup of green tea before walking through Naka-Meguro, along the river, inhaling the crisp air. I make a quick stop at the convenience store to get an uncomplicated, and maybe even unsophisticated breakfast. Just over 100 yens later I bite into a savoury onigiri while watching the water playing below. I pass the river towards the viaduct, from left the scent of Ramen graces me when a door opens. Crossing the road and stepping into the station. The mix of suits and leisure wear reflecting the range of lifestyles and schedules that this city is home to. Standing on the platform I pretend I’m going somewhere important, like this is just a regular Tuesday and I always take the train north.
I have a place in mind. A neighbourhood which is not where you’d be pointed to go your first time in Tokyo, but a specific place is drawing me there. An old school teishoku-ya, a lunch place that has been around since at least the 60’s. I arrive early, even before they have opened up business, and first not entirely sure which door is the right one. While waiting across the street a postman makes a stop with his moped to hand out the morning post, a mother and child walks by, maybe on the way to school. Then the store owner comes out to put up the flag. I step in and look around, debating wether to pick a stool or the tatami mat. The choice falls on the later. Today's serving is mackerel with rice, pickles, soup and salad, all out on the table in no time. A few workers from the area steps in, orders and lights a cigarette. I sit there slowly tasting every bite, glancing at the other guests, smiling because I feel like I was let in on a secret.
Sometime when afternoon stumbles upon you, after peeking into a few stores, it is time for coffee. Heading towards the far end of Shibuya, Oku-Shibu, to soothe the crave. A spot by the window or the bar and a simple black coffee. No bitterness and just the right amount of acidity. How can this country keep excelling in both tea and coffee? An hour or maybe two watching people, reading and thinking about what I want my life to look like. Breathing slowly and wishing that this coffee was a weekly ritual, envious that even in this busy place people have managed create a room for slowing down.
Later I find myself standing in the middle of Ginza, people passing by everywhere around me. Running errands, on their way to meet a friend, making it in time for dinner with the family. Observing their movements, the sunlight slowly sinking lower on the tall blank facades. I suppose I should feel small, but even when looking up the city is not intimidating.
The time comes when noodles are the only thing on my mind; Ebisu and a bowl with spicy thick soup, a portion of gyooza and an Asahi. It is me and the businessmen taking a break before going back to the office. A family having a quick dinner. This isn’t a place for lingering so I finish my meal quickly and head out again.
Walking back to Shibuya and down the stairs in what looks like a very mundane building. But there in the basement, the place to get the perfect Manhattan, in Tokyo. I sit for one, two, maybe even three drinks, listening to whatever old LP they are playing scribbling thoughts and ideas in a notebook. Never wanting to leave this day, the feeling of total freedom while moving around the city entirely incognito.