In Japanese culture, when you are meeting for the first time, the phrases ‘初めまして／hajimemashite’ and ‘どぞよろしくお願いします／dozo yoroshiku onegaishimasu’ are used. The literal translations are ‘I am meeting you for the first time’ and ‘Please take good care of me’.
People are always shocked when I tell them that I’ve been to Japan six times thus far, with five out of those six trips being Tokyo bound to some degree. I am, and find it such a privilege that I can be, an avid traveller. I’ve been to over 20 countries and countless cities within them. Travelling in and of itself can be fun but rather than viewing it as a bucket list of destinations to be ticked off, I think there is more satisfaction in finding different cultures that resonate with you and cultivating that growing interest in them while you are there. It was only this recent, fifth trip that I am finally starting to feel like I am getting to know you, Tokyo. And no matter what trips I plan, I keep finding my way back here precisely because I’ve lost my heart to you over and over again.
There are many things I could write about to try and sum up why Tokyo is my favourite city in the world. There is the efficient public transport system that’s so well-designed, it feels like the route to your destination is so convenient because they made it personally, just for you. There are the big ticket places like Shibuya, Shinjuku, Ginza and Roppongi, fast-paced, exciting, you’ll never know who or what you’ll run into on the next corner. There are also small pockets of niche, like Shimokitazawa, Nakameguro, Tomigaya (on the list for my next trip) quietly showcasing their own unique identity whether that be bohemian vintage shops or cafes that only serve avocados. There is the food, and I stand by my belief that you could walk into almost any café, restaurant or bar and the food that they serve you would still be decent. From convenience stores to Michelin-starred restaurants, I’ve never had a bad meal in Tokyo. There are the people, a study of their culture, mannerisms and eccentricities, would fill the volumes of a thousand Tales of Genji. But to put it succinctly, I find them in general to all be very kind, very welcoming and always interesting. There is the language that I am constantly fascinated by and have been wrestling to grasp for the better part of two years. Being able to refer to oneself as watashi, ore, boku, having three different character sets, the penchant for onomatopoeia (my personal favourite is ‘mochi-mochi’). Becoming fluent has long been a dream of mine that I continue to work towards, not just to be able to converse but to play with such an array of tools for expression.
All of these and more are great reasons to love Tokyo, but it’s not the parts, it’s the sum of it. When someone asks you why or how you came to be in love with your significant other, it’s not their laundry list of good attributes, their resume that you reiterate. It’s the way they make you feel and I love the way Tokyo makes me feel. It’s the chilly breeze that brushed us at Ueno Park the afternoon of the hanami party I was graciously invited to be part of. It’s the calm at the multi-storey bookshop, Tsutaya, located in Roppongi, as I lose myself amongst books written in English and Japanese. The taste of a hot honey lemonade bought at a stand in Nakameguro. The memory of the smile of the old man who owned the pottery store at Tsukiji, where I bought tea cups for myself and my best friends. The gratitude from saying hello to the hotel’s concierge team in the morning and welcome home at the end of the day. The expression of the lady who worked at Shinjuku’s EMODA. I lost my words in that moment, but she somehow found them in “あまり好きじゃないね”and the way her face softened in understanding. Nightlife dynamics in Tokyo and coming home with the rising sun. Simple contentment from sharing a meal amongst friends from different countries. The way gyutan bounces back before surrendering when your teeth meet the meat. The quintessential magic in the air of Disneyland, coupled with the Japanese passion and enthusiasm for looking the part and playing the part. The first mouthful of your very first warm onigiri. Wholly and completely embodying the feeling of ‘free’ in such a walkable city. Upon leaving Omoide Yokocho in the rain and being offered a clear plastic umbrella from a stranger and accepting it felt like acceptance into this city.
It’s been a week since I’ve returned to Sydney but I’m absolutely certain that there’s a part of me left in Tokyo lying around somewhere. If I had to guess, it would either be meandering around Ueno Park frantically taking in the very last of the sakura, or more realistically (and less romanticised), the Family Mart at Tameike-sanno station considering the ridiculous amount of food I bought there on a daily basis. Having lived alone in multiple countries, detachment comes a lot more easily to me. I’m incredibly surprised and thankful to be able to find a sense of comfort and belonging, in a country where I barely know anyone and struggle to speak the language. Thank you for the best part of 2017 so far. じゃまたね。