From across the world, I’ve seen them, a thousand times over, those flashing Tokyo lights, those business suits rushing down the street and those Toyota Crown taxis opening and closing their doors shut.
I reach my hotel room in Tokyo and look at the time, 10:00 pm. It’s that time where it’s OK to call it a night and it’s OK to go for a late night dinner.
I grab my sued jacket and Hotel Call my friend to meet me in the lobby. I’m Hungry.
That Tokyo Crown door mysteriously swings open, calling us in. We shuffle in, sued jacket, restaurant list and all, and continue to communicate in our soon to be perfected Anglo-Japo-SmartPhono lingo with the taxi driver.
(A combination of English, the words arigato and konichiwa, Smartphone waving, pointing and Google-Mapping)
As we reach, we volley our arigatos back and for with the taxi driver and shuffle out as we did in. The door shots closed, and I turn to those Tokyo neons.
My friend’s face barely visibly moments ago in the Tokyo Crown, now crisp, with reflections of yellow, red and white on his glasses.
List still in hand, we paddle through the crowd of business men calling it a night after post work drinks intertwined with 20 something’s starting their evening and step into Our sushi spot.
A 24-hour sushi shop with sliding doors that shut on our backsides. The 5 chefs behind the sushi counter greet us like relatives living abroad. With arms open, konichiwa and welcome they say, and in Anglo-Japo-SmartPhono we mention how long we’re staying in Tokyo and what we plan to do.
Behind the sushi counter, our uncles stand, each with their sharpened knifes, textured boards, white cloths, and pointed pencils above their ears.
Jacket and list tucked away, an impromptu play beings.
Our chef wipes his knife clean and eases it through the fresh pink tuna, a first, a second and a third time, for our order. Edging our disjointed conversation on with his kind eyes, he lifts the damp cloth over the protected clouds of rise and morsels a sushi with his firm hands. Tucking to the side of the tuna sushi, a healthy floret of ginger upon our request.
The doors slide open and shut on our backsides once again, as we face the lights.
It’s 9am and my latte art slides to one side of my round mug as I sip my coffee.
It’s the second time we return to this café, the record player still whirls in the corner as tables fill up around me and as bread rises in the oven.
“Good morning.” I say to the chef/owner.
“Good morning,” She responds. “Thank you for coming back.”
She remembered I think. “It’s a beautiful space.” I say.
“What brings you to Tokyo?” She asks.
Putting my Anglo-Japo-SmartPhono to rest, I explain my love for food and travel and how Tokyo ticked all those boxes for me.
“Have you been to all the places you planned?” She asks pointing to my restaurant list.
I smile and say, “Almost, I’m still missing a really great soba noodle place.”
“Soba noodles… there should be a couple around here.”
We exchange email addresses, thank yous and goodbyes as I’ walk out.
The sun is dipping below the trees, now a dangling lantern setting the mood. We lay in Shinjuku Gyoen National Park, a pastime that makes time pass too quickly.
My phone vibrates and an email follows:
I spoke to a couple of my foodie friends and they gave me some names. (The names Follow)
Good Luck! Let me know if you need help with the reservation.
I lay in Shinjuku park, in a city theoretically so foreign to me, but actually so familiar and easy because what happened with the chef and the email and the café happened as many times as I have volleyed arigatos back and forth.
Maps scribbled on napkins, directions ending in “let me take you there” and a general interest in our sued jacket, camera infused, list clutching entity.
Thank you for holding my hand through Tokyo.
It’s not the lights, it’s not the Crowns but it is the people.
Rather then leaving you with a list of restaurants to visit, I leave you with portraits, of the chef, the friend, the baker, the fashion forward, the builder, the storeowner, the man and the creative.
And if you really do want that restaurant list, I’ll box it up as soon as I can.