Personal

Lost in Translation

When I first planned to document this first trip to Japan, I envisioned a daily series of updates. They would be easy to do: I’d compose short paragraphs, attach a few photos, and hit Publish.

I know now that was a silly, silly plan. Between my sprained foot and our insistence to cover as much ground as we could, by the time we limped back to the hotel room around 8 pm or later every night, we were truly and utterly spent. We averaged more than 10km a day on foot, by the way.

Senso-ji and in the distance, the Tokyo Skytree

But it’s not just that. Our limited travels within Tokyo already floored us in a deep, fundamental way. I get now why some people call it the “city of contrasts” because it really, truly is. A two-minute walk can bring you from quiet alleyways to massive neon-lit crossings surrounded by futuristic skyscrapers. Turn a corner and another two minutes brings you to a little park which also hides a shrine and its attendants, quietly performing their morning routine.

A quiet shrine next to Shinjuku-chuo Park

What we expected was the mad rush of one of the most modern cities in the world. We expected full trains, people jostling each other at sidewalks, fighting for space with cars and other transport.

Tsukiji Outer Market, still bustling 

What we found instead, in that short time we had there, was something special. We found that while people were indeed rushing, nobody was pushed aside. White-haired, kimono-clad seniors took the same routes as smartly-dressed corporate drones and wheelchair-bound commuters. The cleaners at some of the oldest subway stations would cheerily greet users, and people made way for each other. Entering random shops felt like returning after a long time away. We always felt welcome – even though we didn’t always understand each other.

I guess the only way I can describe our past week in Tokyo is simply – it felt like a home away from home. It welcomed us, tolerated our newbie foibles and gave us incredibly satisfying sensory moments. We miss it already, and we can’t wait to come back to its streets and charms, and food and people.

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