I’m writing this post at the second part of my summer travels 2017, in the tiny village of Dolbeau in the Coëx commune in western France. But as you can see from the picture to the right (or my left or is it the other way around, says this spatial thinking flunky…), my adventures this summer started in Tokyo. I visited a friend who was living there for two months and the city absolutely blew my mind. Here’s a summary of what I dug the most.
Heated seats, three kinds of bidets, driers, privacy settings to disguise those oh-so-embarassing bathroom noises: Seriously, Japanese high tech toilets are the most amazing thing ever. (This is probably TMI, but I’m pretty sure my anus has not been the same since I got back to Europe.)
In most cases, none of the settings were translated into English—fyi, English is very hard to come by in general in Japan, so it’s worth learning a few basic Japanese phrases before you go to make things easier for you—but I did occassionally find signs with the same awkward translation: For cleansing the buttocks. So adorably bad I used it to name this post.
Here’s a video my friend and I discovered that talks about the reasoning behind the awesome buttocks cleansing.
The masses of people
Most people have heard tell of Tokyo subway cars where people are packed together tighter than a can of sardines, or the famous Shibuya Crossing, which just may be the busiest intersection in the world. But reading about it and seeing it first-hand are two completely different things. When you’re anywhere in downtown Tokyo, hundreds of people are coming at you from every direction.
But I was amazed at how smoothly everything ran, how no one ever got into each other’s way, how not a single person ever seemed stressed or frazzled. The city is like a well-tuned hive, with people buzzing here and there, steering clear of one another in a way I would have never thought possible.
By the way, the picture above was taken in Sangen-jaya, a neighborhhood which remained me of Tokyo’s Brooklyn, only with a lot less beards and coconut water. Or are beards now out in Brooklyn? The hipster boys are beginning to shave again in Berlin at least.
Sangen-jaya is bustling but nowhere near what you get in downtown Tokyo. If you ever visit, be sure to go to the top of the Carrot Tower. It gives you a great view over the city and you can see Mount Fuji on a clear day (the Japanese are really into Mount Fuji, not just a tourist thing.) Plus, it’s called the Carrot Tower. Beta-Carotene and Vitamin A, hoorah!
I haven’t lived in the US for nearly twenty years and when I go back to visit, I mostly only ever go to Northern California. I’m not really sure how well Northern California represents the country as a whole (and yes, right now I am saying this with sarcasm and weariness…), but if memory serves, shops and restaurants in the area haven’t played elevator music since the late 80s. Chains like Safeway, Walgreen’s, Applebee’s, mall stores, they all still play music—and usually too loudly for my meanwhile-Northern-European-ears—but it’s pop music with lyrics. The same goes for classier joints, although the music is less likely to be plastic-y pop.
But, my friends, believe me: elevator music is alive and well in Tokyo. The really bizarre part is that a lot of convenience/drugstores/grocery stores play three to four different kinds, so if you’re in the feminine products section you might hear a Beatle’s medley, but if you wander over to the savory snacks aisle you’ll hear Strangers in the Night, while orchestra Elvis is ripping up the liquor section. Combine this with the fact that pink does not seem to be a gendered color in Japan—many of these shops are bursting with the color as though all designed by Ann Margret circa 1964—and you’re in for a pretty psychedelic shopping experience.
The elevator tune I heard hands down more than any other was Daydream Believer by the Monkees. Cheer up, Sleepy Jean, oh what can it mean sing the strings at every 7-11 in town, and 7-11 is big in Japan, as in one on every other corner.
Tokyo loves you, Davy Jones. Rest In Peace.
Yes, I’m (very) sure I’ve gained instead of lost but man, it’s been worth it.
Grub in Tokyo also wasn’t pricey, which was surprising. My friend and I splurged on (amazing) Sushi at the fish market and the best meal of my life at a little restaurant in Ueno Park, both which set us back about 35 bucks. But the other meals at ramen shops and soba joints, where you pay in a vending machine first and hand the ticket to a waiter, and conveyor belt sushi were also delish and usually cost less than ten bucks.
Even the fake food was fabulous. I love fake food. I’ve been so tempted to buy some in one of the Chinese shops on Clement street in San Francisco just to keep in my kitchen.
Food it ain’t, but it’s certainly art.
Melting in the heat
I knew Tokyo was going to be hot, but I still wasn’t prepared for 30 to 35 degress celcius and 90% humidity. Yikes! All I can say is thank god for air conditioner and matcha shaved ice.
Thank god for music cafes like Cafe Lion and Eigakan, where we listened to Beethoven and Bill Evans on the most amazing sound systems ever in an otherwise silent room, an experience bordering on religious, especially in Lion, with its bust of Beethoven, down the street from several love hotels in the red light district near Shibuya.
All and all my Tokyo jaunt was one of the most amazing trips I’ve ever taken. I even took home this shiner.
I could tell the story here, but nah….I’ll just leave you wondering. 😉