The first two days in Tokyo passed in a blur because of a bad cold. On this glorious sunny day, I was almost recovered! The air of late March was still chilly in Tokyo and the petals of cherry blossoms were still hugging tightly. But spring was definitely here!
Our youth hostel in Asakusa was at a superb location – not because it was very close to many tourist attractions or things like that, but because we could get direct metro link to both Narita and Haneda airport – and they were inexpensive and fast! I know not many people would need both airports but we did. The hostel itself was small, but cosy, clean and functional. I imagined hostel rooms would be small in Japan, especially in Tokyo, but it turned out that rooms in Taipei and Hong Kong were way smaller. You’ll have to keep reading to find out about that.
For travellers who are obsessed with planning and have a good sense of direction, I really recommend Google Maps’ My Map. I put everything I want to see and do, and places I want to go on a map and it helps me to see the locations accurately so I can plan my route each day. Some people who prefer roaming around aimlessly might look down their nose at my over-planned way of traveling – they’re entitled to their opinions. But I like to have an idea of my priority destinations, so when I need to be flexible on the day, I can make quick decisions to let go of the minor destinations. Plus it reduces the likelihood of me saying “oh no, that bookshop was just down the street of the temple we walked past but I didn’t know it was there!”
Anyway, I’m going to tell you about our third day in Tokyo and it was the best day by far! The plan was stay around the Roppongi area and this was the map of the day:
The first stop was 21_21 Design Sight. I’ll save you some time to search, here’s what Wikipedia says:
“The design museum was created by architect Tadao Ando and fashion designer Issey Miyake. ‘The idea was to create not only a museum that shows exhibits,’ says Ando, ‘but also a place for researching the potentiality of design as an element that enriches our daily life, a place that fosters the public’s interest in design by arousing in them different sights and perspectives on how we can view the world and the objects surrounding us.'”
To be honest, I usually don’t take this kind of statement seriously, especially if it’s from an artist or a designer – they just don’t make sense to me. But for this one, it’s true! The exhibition, which is “Athlete”, definitely showed me many new perspectives of this subject. I’m not a sports fan at all but the exhibition was fascinating. I believe this is the art of communication. Knowledge is fascinating when it’s presented skilfully. I was gutted to miss the previous exhibition on food. After all, I’m still more interested in food than athletes. But I was running around in 21_21 Design Sight full of excitement for a whole hour before I had to leave to meet a friend!
At 12 midday, I met up with a friend from school days when we were 16. We were a small “gang” in those days, not that we did anything particularly unlawful. It was a group of friends that were crucial to my character-shaping during those teenage years. Fortunately, they were decent friends – so I guess I turned out alright. So this particular friend, we kept a “group diary” together, writing new entries each day in turns and putting comments on previous entries; we passed each other Japanese mangas under desks, read them under the covers of textbooks and dreamed the same unrealistic dreams like 16-year-old tend to do; he wrote a fantasy story, making me as a character with magic; he brought back huge beautiful red hawthorn sweets at lunch break for us which was popular at that time and made us very happy; he read English beautifully, when he read in classroom, we held our breath as we listened; someone flew a paper airplane right into the back of his head, the whole class laughed a friendly laugh, he stuck his finger up to the world; he gave me a pair of very pretty flipflops as a present, years and years later I still take them all over the world with me – such good quality; he gave me a keyring, it’s Luffy’s straw hat, it’s still on my bike keys every day as I cycle to work.
Meeting an old friend is always risky. So it was really pleasant to find that he hasn’t changed at all.
The second destination: The National Art Centre.
We came across a tree wearing a bright red trousers with white spots before we got to the front door. There was a special show of Yayoi Kusama. Neither of us was particularly interested in her work. However, I’ve been slightly regretting missing the exhibition of Alfons Mucha. Although we didn’t go in any of the exhibitions, I collected a flyer for each and every show available (with a lot of help from my good friend zooming around like a bee). As an amateur magazine editor, it was like a sweet shop (we had to leave some of them behind in Taiwan because our luggage was overweight – it was heartbreaking!).
So why did I go to this art gallery if I didn’t want to see any shows? It was partly the building itself – it was designed by Kisho Kurokawa. I was skipping along the top floor like a happy dog. More importantly, I was there to look for this view:
Yes it’s a scene from the recent Japanese animation film Your Name!
We found a small food place for lunch. It was beef with rice and soup. Eating is another black hole during travels. How do I know that I should eat an open-faced sandwich in Copenhagen with knife and fork when I eat sandwich anywhere else in the world with fingers? How do I know that it was noodle soup in that tea pot and it was supposed to be poured in a cup of soy sauce in the soba noodle restaurant on our first day in Tokyo?! So this time, it was actually relatively easy to have a bowl of rice with cooked beef on top and it wasn’t too hard to pour soup in half way when my lovely school friend acted as a translator. By that point, I had lost count how many friends treated us lunch, coffee and dinner in Beijing, Shanghai and now Tokyo. (It continued in Taipei, Hong Kong and Singapore.) No one would let us pay for anything! I could only praise God for their friendship and hospitality. Before we left the UK, we hoped we could be a blessing for all the friends we would meet. But we were actually blessed by them even more!
Meguro River is famous at cherry blossom season, but we were just a few days too early for that spectacular scenery. We visited Tsutaya Books and Cow Books and were pretty impressed by how Tsutaya bookshop used the dingy and cramped space under a metro bridge.
Back to Roppongi, I said goodbye to my friend of forever 16. The third museum of the day: Mori Art Museum. The exhibitions were mildly weird, but we weren’t there for the exhibitions. My ears popped in the rocketing lift which shot up to 52 floor in just seconds. We went for the Tokyo City View observation deck and it was a beautiful clear day!
(Before I came to the UK, I thought it was just for the effect that the double deckers in Harry Potter films drive like mad and turn corners at 45 degree angle to the ground; it’s slight exaggeration, but it’s true. Before I came to Tokyo, I thought it was just for the effect that the lift in skyscrapers in Japanese animations shoot up to the sky like a spaceship; it actually felt like taking off, I was looking for a seat belt.)
The tiny photos here cannot do justice to the light and shadow that unfolded in front of our eyes. Seeing the sun set over Tokyo and the city awoke in the sea of light was electrifying. The observation deck was buzzing with people and cameras. The professionals with cannon-like cameras were unmovable. But the locals and tourists were all pretty considerate and friendly, shuffling about to make room for one more camera or pressing their lens on the glass window in turns.
That was still not the end of our blessed day. We met a friend, who studied in Newcastle University at the same time as me, under the giant black spider in front of Mori Tower. He didn’t look any different but had just become a dad a few weeks ago. Again we were treated with an authentic Japanese hot pot. Over the steam, he asked about everyone in Newcastle. He was now one of the busy and ordinary Japanese workers walking on the pavement head down, standing in the metro eyes closed and answering business phone calls one after another. He commented we haven’t changed at all, and all the good memories rushed back with us. The years he spent in Newcastle were like a colourful dream.
Good night Tokyo!