Tune In Tokyo

“Do not follow where the path may lead. Go instead where there is no path and leave a trail” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

As much as one travels it’s not every day where you encounter a language so different than English; even though a language might be foreign with accents and squigglies many still use the Roman/Latin alphabet we know today. In fact, I have been trying to remember the last non-Roman alphabet I encountered and it seems to be the Cyrillic alphabet used in Russia and it’s former republics. Oops, silly of me, it was the Greek alphabet. In all fairness the Japanese language and many Asian languages use characters and symbols, but I digress. And unlike many countries that offer translation on menus, in stores and other places where a tourist might go, it is more of a rarity in Tokyo. I remember being frustrated when my menu was entirely in Japanese and didn’t have any photos thus relinquishing complete control to my Japanese friend, Ogi, to order for me. For those who know me I imagine the idea scared her and “Ogi, you did a fantastic job and the meal was delicious!”

Tokyo captures you from the moment you arrive, it’s polite, clean and although the pace is fast it’s also slower than we’re used to. Collectively the city moves quickly, individually movements are thought out with meaning. The people are friendly and Ogi’s friends and family took me into their embrace without hesitation, even letting their guard down one debaucherous night in Roppongi. It also has the most complex subway system from what I have seen so far. I was so thankful for having friends guide the way! 

“Tokyo is the capital of Japan, the center of the Greater Tokyo Area, and the largest metropolitan area of Japan. It is the seat of the Japanese government and the Imperial Palace, and the home of the Japanese Imperial Family.

The Tokyo Metropolitan government administers the twenty-three special wards of Tokyo (each governed as a city), which cover the area that was the city of Tokyo, as well as 39 municipalities in the western part of the prefecture and the two outlying island chains. The population of the special wards is over 8 million people, with the total population of the prefecture exceeding 13 million. The prefecture is part of the world’s most populous metropolitan area with upwards of 35 million people and the world’s largest metropolitan economy with a GDP of US$1.479 trillion at purchasing power parity in 2008, ahead of New York City, which ranks second on the list. The city hosts 47 of the Fortune Global 500 companies, the highest amount of any city.”

And interestingly enough “the Michelin Guide has awarded Tokyo by far the most Michelin stars of any city in the world.”

I met my friend Ogi (above) years ago in Toronto when her law firm hired my former event planning company to host a Japanese themed client appreciation evening during a patent law conference held here in Toronto. As expected it was to be the most authentic possible and I elicited the assistance of the Japanese Canadian Culture Centre, hiring kimono dressers to dress our carefully selected models/servers in authentic kimonos being brought over from Japan. Ogi’s bosses even came over mid way in the planning to source the best sushi in Toronto for their guests. After tasting 6+ restaurants it was decided that Hiro Sushi was the most authentic. We privately ordered up-to-par shochu and sake and all the while Ogi was my main contact during the planning process. We forged a quick friendship that was reignited via Facebook and so when I booked my trip I jumped at the chance to stay with her when I saw a stopover in Tokyo was an option.

I arrived on a Friday evening and enjoyed catching up with another of Ogi’s colleagues I knew, Sachiko, a very like minded to me, adventurous individual who is very open in her opinions – a characteristic less common among many Asians I have met. We both find each other very refreshing, I especially her as she gave me an inside view at how many of her friends think and act in the same type of situations we encounter here in Canada; work, relationships etc. I loved it. In fact Ogi did the same and I have to say I was a little joyous inside to be privy to this information. Or was it just serendipitous that I had met two wonderful Japanese women who were as open as I am?

Ogi’s cousin Yuka, from Osaka (where Ogi is also from) was staying with her for the week. She is my age and adorable as she grasped at her English words and Ogi explained that later that night when we went out that she would be much more fluent. Aren’t we all? After all, just two weeks ago, at a bar one night, I had some lengthy conversations in Spanish. Yuka’s English is limited and she is shy in speaking it but I did however find out on the Monday as she escorted me to the airport express train that we could in fact communicate, when need be. The three of us were peas in a pod, let’s say edamame to be culturally correct, and I look forward to seeing them again.

On the Saturday it unfortunately rained all day and I was at the tail end of a cold so we stayed in, watched Japanese television and caught up. As the day progressed my second wind came on, also known as the “I’m in a foreign city, with a well known party district (Roppongi) on a Saturday night with people who speak the language.” Ogi escorted me from her gorgeous, high tech, totally my style, condo down to her zippy Honda S2000 convertible, perfect for her once/week trip to the grocery store and off we went to buy groceries and alcohol. I thoroughly enjoyed the car elevator ride to the grocery store parking lot located on the rooftop of the building and perused the aisles not understanding a single thing. I did get my bacon and introduced Ogi and Yuka to BLTs the next morning and the wine selection was fantastic. I must also say that any nation that serves delicious thinly sliced beef, rice and vegetables for breakfast while keeping the calories down is a nation to be admired. Cereal is for birds, as I munch mine down…

That evening is a bit of a blur but we ended up in Roppongi and I didn’t do one bit of thinking, heaven for a brain that is always on. I know we went from club to club and I know I befriended a young, cute and vivacious prostitute as she lap danced her older client but I thought it was apparent she was on some type of drug and releasing her from her duties, even for just a minute, seemed the right thing to do. Her English was also the best out of anyone I met and I believe she even admitted to me that she was on drugs. In my head I think I added, “it’s the only way I can sleep with him” to the commentary but she might have said that too. The last place we ended up before downing a shawarma, that’s right, a shawarma, was my favourite place that evening. Too bad no one knows the name because I’d love to go back. I remember red velvet banquette seating, dark lighting, and ex-pats. Oh yeah and grinding down to Wiz Khalifa’s “Black and Yellow” in homage to my father’s Pittsburgh/Steeltown family – represent! Sometimes I wish I could charter a plane for 20 of my closest friends and whisk us away to some of the amazing places I’ve been and the experiences I treasure, damn it, when is beam-me-up technology going to happen? Also much needed on a Saturday night when your legs just won’t take you home and there’s nothing more you want than your bed. 

Did I actually see any of Tokyo? Not much to be honest. We did drag ourselves out at 3pm on Sunday to Tokyo’s Asukasa Shrine, which was beautiful. I did experience, many times, Tokyo’s convoluted subway. I partied in Roppongi and briefly walked around Shinjuku, one of Tokyo’s busiest shopping areas. I missed out on Harujuku which I really wanted to experience and to take pictures of the wacky and zany characters you find there – think Gwen Stefani’s Harujuku girls… And there was the hop on / hop off bus I would have liked to take. I will definitely go back and visit more of Japan as it is a country I have really wanted to visit ever since the Nagano Olympics. I did not eat sushi, which I had eagerly been waiting for, as someone reminded me of the Japanese nuclear situation resulting from the earthquake/tsunami that occurred this past March. I was told it was safe but opted out. Sad because I had been so excited for the real thing. I also would have loved to visit the fish market where the fishermen sell to the restaurants, insane I hear. 

Let me leave you with this. Tokyo is a fantastic city but also very expensive. I realized after sending nine postcards home on the Sunday after my Saturday night that I had just spent $36! Yet another reason to not do anything requiring brain function after a night out. It took me a long time to stop beating myself up about that one. The funny thing is that I had told myself repeatedly to send the last batch during my time in Moalboal where a 1.5 hour taxi ride costs $25 but did I? No…I couldn’t find stamps or whatever. I didn’t do it. I knew better than to wait until Tokyo but sometimes you need a little slap in the ass, the last lesson before heading home to set you up for your next trip.

Next, my final trip post. And, yes, I have been home for three weeks now and I am officially out of my post trip funk. I live in an incredible city, Toronto, with amazing friends. Plus, there is nothing like the Christmas party season and rejoicing with those who you love and who love you to remind you of how blessed you are.


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