Through the shades, I can make out rows and rows of cubicles in GranTokyo South Tower opposite the road. People working hard on a Monday afternoon; battling their post-lunch sleepiness.
As the traffic light changes, packs of people in black cross each other’s paths. Most people wear black here in Tokyo. It casts a solemn mood over this city; and is a big change from the multi-colour garb on the mountains. At which point in life do people switch colours?
Tokyo station is a buzzing hub of activity. Taxis waiting in line, buses moving into bays, commuters hurrying to their destination, trains pulling in and out of platforms with clockwork precision.
I heave a slow inner sigh. It is hard not to feel lonely when you are alone in this big cold city. I suddenly thought of the movie – Lost in translation. I continue to stare out of Level 7 of Yaesu Book Center; from the corner of the only English section in this multi-storey bookstore.
I have just sent off Kenneth to the airport, so now I am all alone. I know I have an exciting solo adventure ahead of me. But, for this short moment, it’s a struggle for me not to sink into the expanding sense of loneliness and loss. Haruki Murakami has this thing to say about love:
“Anyone who falls in love is searching for the missing pieces of themselves. So anyone who’s in love gets sad when they think of their lover. It’s like stepping back inside a room you have fond memories of, one you haven’t seen in a long time.”
Sometimes it really feels like that, doesn’t it?
I look around me at the relentless stream of humans around me. There is beauty in the bustling motion; but there is also a sense of disorientation. With multiple exit points and levels, it is easy to wander and get lost within this single station. It’s 3 o’clock in the afternoon. Where are all these people going?
Where am I going?
Earlier this morning, to commemorate the end of this awesome shared vacation, we decided to have a good sushi meal at the famous Tsukuji market – the place where the best and freshest seafood catch are traded over loud auction shouts.
It has signboards signaling that it isn’t a tourist sightseeing spot, along with detailed illustrations of what not to do when one is here. However, this hasn’t stopped tourists at all from coming here to watch the fish auctions early in the morning or to queue patiently at the row of restaurants to have the freshest sushi at a reasonable price.
The queues were well formed by the time we reached Tsukiji. There were lines that were so long they had to break off at some points and continue somewhere else! This restaurant, however, beckoned to us sensually with its very manageable queue and equally manageable price.
The tuna here is simply different from the ones found in Singapore. We must surely be getting all the Grade C quality what with the long shipment time! Salmon is a darling of Singaporeans but tuna is the king here. We ordered a platter of both, along with a rice bowl filled with tuna and scallops. It was hard not to drool just sitting there and waiting for our food!
I unwittingly commited a faux paux when the dishes were served. In Singapore, there is always spare wasabi on the table. I didn’t see any, and out of habit, I asked for more. The waitress looked at me with wide-eyed surprise and said testily that its already embedded in the sushi.
In Singapore, sushi is also prepared that way but I always enjoyed more wasabi for the extra kick. So without thinking again, I said, “Yes, could I have more please?” She curtly conveyed the message to the chef who gave me a look but still obliged with my request. He made sure however to emphasize again that the wasabi is ALREADY IN THE SUSHI.
Kenneth, watching the spectacle in silent, frozen terror all this while, finally leaned over and whispered, “I think they might have been insulted by your request…” It’s really funny how he always has these thoughts in his mind but somehow never tells me until it’s too late. I BLAME YOU KENNETH! But really, gomenasai Mr Chef and Ms Waitress! I was so ashamed of myself. Indeed, the sushi was so fresh and rich that no added wasabi or soy sauce was really necessary to make it delicious. The sweetness is like nothing we can find back in Singapore. And all for just 2,500 yen in total! I hereby certify that this lesson has been etched forever in my brain.
With some time left before the airport bus, we decided to hang out around Tokyo station and we went to Tokyu Hands, a lifestyle store on L8-10 of Daimaru where they sell an assortment of interesting products.
We found some ridiculously specific household items here. There was a shaker that enabled you to make carbonara in a bottle. A butter cutter to ensure a block of butter is cut precisely into 20 pieces. An apparatus to insert into a lemon so that you can spray out fresh lemon juice immediately in just the right misty quantity. Really cool design but…seriously? Given how small the typical Japanese apartment is, I really wonder how they can manage to have 1 tool for every specific function!
Tokyu Hands was our last destination before Kenneth waved goodbye aboard the bus to Narita Airport. As dusk settled quietly in, I headed out from the historic side of Tokyo Station to the nearby Imperial Palace park. It closes at 4pm, so I was unable to enter. The skies were a dusty pink so I just stood at the moat, lost in the gentle, soothing glow.
A white swan was making its rounds, and there were several joggers on their evening runs. Traffic was heavy. But, looking at the sky and fountain made me feel very peaceful. Everything’s gonna be ok. I wandered into Shin Marunouchi, which is a new high end shopping complex with lifestyle stores, fashion, and good restaurants. It is the best dressed crowd I have seen so far in Tokyo and business is busy for a Monday. Everything looks nice but the price tags are hefty.
As I stepped out of the building, it struck me that Shin Marunouchi isn’t really Tokyo, and Tokyo isn’t really Japan. What would the legendary painter of dreams, Hayao Miyazaki, think of a place like Tokyo? Gosh, I am really missing the mountains and nature!
The round silver moon hung bright above the tall buildings; alone in the dark black sky.
I am looking ahead to my next destination: Kyoto. I want to go sit by Kamo River because it brings back such lovely memories with Kenneth! And I hope I can be lucky enough to catch the early cherry blossoms while I am there. That would make me very happy indeed.
P.S. Travel tips that we have discovered and tested today:
1. Airport shuttle bus:
The Keisei bus service across the road from JR Tokyo Station Central Exit cost 1,000 yen and takes about an hour. The rest of the train or bus service at Tokyo station costs triple at 2,900 yen and up for around the same length of time! It beats me why there is such a big price discrepancy for the same service at the same location. If you are traveling to Tokyo, don’t waste your money! That is a good Tsukiji sushi don for free right there for the price difference.
The bus stop is right beside this building. You pay in cash when you board so no reservations are required and there are buses running every half hour or so.
2. Coin lockers at stations:
This is a very convenient service at all train stations so we didn’t have to lug the heavy stuff around. It starts from 300 yen/day for the smallest locker and 500 yen for a large size locker.
3. Willer express overnight bus:
All announcements were in Japanese at the interchange so I was a little lost about where to board. Thankfully, Willer Express was easy to spot when it pulled into the interchange, with its white and pink colours. The bus also looked distinctively newer compared to the other buses from other highway companies. I also had a lot of ease booking through its English website. The price of 4,700 yen is at least half of what it would cost via train. Since it was an overnight bus, you can also save on a night’s lodging and start earlier at your new destination.
I felt like I entered into a sci-fi movie scene when I boarded the bus. Beyond the curtain were many seats looking like pods, each with a helmet shade that you can pull over for privacy and shielding of light. I love it! There were also the “business” and “economy” seats with different seat widths and leg room.
Mine is the pink “economy” seat but the recline angle is a lot more generous compared to an airplane seat. The seat is also more softly padded and taller compared to trains; so it’s a very comfortable ride.
4. Free wifi: read here for how get online in Japan!