The cold drizzle slowly collects into bigger pools and slides slowly down the fogged window. You stare out at the umbrellas making their daily commute. The reflections of automobiles flicker from the wet asphalt in adjacent lanes. It’s another spring morning in Tokyo.
The transportation map is a tangled web of spaghetti, competing railways and a myriad of lines. You stare up at the map to determine your fare. You locate your destination, ShimoKitazawa, note the number of yen it costs and deposit it into the ticket vending machine. Everything seems to have a corresponding vending machine.
It’s a patchwork of blurred colours painting past the train window. The train glides so smoothly it feels like you are floating through space. No one talks to each other. Some play games on their mobile phones, others stare blankly but it seems this is not a time for social interaction. The train car is quiet except for the intermittent station stop announcements.
By population—approximately equal to that of Canada or Poland—Tokyo is, by far, the biggest city in the world. By land area, the metro region is only behind New York. This being said, the diversity in towns and neighborhoods comprising such can be vast.
You step off the train and the drizzle has stopped. The temperatures are rising ever slowly as you walk the streets of Shimokitazawa. It has a calm atmosphere to it. It is often billed as super artsy and full of youthful energy, but while the area is nice, it seems more independently upscale than anything else. Most of the restaurants and cafes seem to be the kind of places with branding plans and bank loans rather than just entities where a vacant shack met a willing beatnik.
As a light rain begins to fall again, you find yourself in front of a building with a rundown exterior in relation to the rest. As much as you can read, it seems like some kind of Chinese noodle house, and unlike its neighbors, not much care has been exerted on its “image” and so you find yourself inside.
Two cooks tend to giant pools of hot, bubbling water. You take a seat at a red-topped table in the corner. A tattooed and bearded customer sits at the end of the bar top, slurping from a large bowl. The rest of the interior is empty. There is a passageway, perhaps a staircase in the back corner. Perhaps there is a garden or an upper level.
The menu, as you are now conditioned, is completely in Japanese and you translate that which you can and use luck for the rest. Soon thereafter, bowls of piping hot broth with noodles and such are wafting steam into your brow. It is a perfect meal for the weather, and a nice getaway from the Disneyland feel outside.
Down the street there is a storefront window. Donuts are lined up and a little old woman is busy running around in the back. You buy a donut. It isn’t particularly good, but you didn’t really expect it to be. What was good was the interaction with the donut lady, whose warmth spills from her smile as you make your order with a series of hand gestures.
The vintage shops are many but most seem to all be chasing top dollar (or, more accurately yen) on things. Some have ancient American denim for many hundreds of dollars while others hawk used French designer duds with high priced tickets. Other areas you have visited in Tokyo, such as Koenji, have wonderful selection and price but not so here.
In general, the stores are well-designed and independent. They have a nice uniqueness to share with the world but generally seem for the well-heeled independent minded shopper than the starving artist.
The bullet train pulls out of Tokyo Station. Just as smooth as all the other trains, the mass of the city really comes into focus as the millions of buildings all comprising their respective neighborhoods fly by the window. Eventually, the bridges, buildings and people thin out leaving behind wide strips of countryside, flowering with blossoms dotted intermittently with massive electrical infrastructure.
For as many people as there are in Tokyo, it seems to work like the trains, quietly and efficiently.
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