The Japanese Aesthetic

I’ve always had a thing for the Japanese aesthetic, which as I’ve seen so far is intertwined in all parts of Japan society.

I would characterize it as "at ease," tranquil, quiet strength, nature oriented and natural beauty, etc. I saw the aesthetic in Japan art and sculpture in the Tokyo National Museum today. I saw it on the train and in the streets where there’s no argumentation at all and everyone seems really at peace with life. I hear it’s the case in business boardrooms, where confrontation is demurred. I see it in religion — Buddhism and Shinto and so forth. I see it in its poetry: the best haiku is based on landscapes and seasons and nature. I see it in the intellectual outlooks of the people: they tend to shun individualism, promote the collective, go with the flow, and basically yield to the natural elements of the world.
There’s something refreshing about the Japanese aesthetic, especially since it accompanies such a successful economic country with hard driven workers. It’s refreshing because it seems so pure from top to bottom in the country and it coexists even in a commercial, cosmopolitan city such as Tokyo.

Hello Tokyo! Pictures and More

Img_1726 Assuming you arrive in Tokyo in the evening, what you’re supposed to do the next morning is visit the fish market. The theory is you’ll be jetlagged so you will be up early anyway and can see the action go down at around 6 AM. About 20 people told me to check out the fish market, so our first morning Mom and I did.

We attempted to walk but the rain proved too strong, so we took a cab to the fish market. We got there a little late and missed the major auction but it was still a zoo. Hundreds of people, mini-cars, trucks, carts all housed within a few massive warehouses. Apparently this fish market is one of the biggest in the world.

We walked the isles, tried not to get in anyone’s way, and saw plenty of huge fish being toted away by different restaurant owners.Img_0926

After walking around we popped into a little hole in the wall restaurant and had sushi for breakfast (only option). Friendly chef, friendly atmosphere, easy ordering. Given that we were eating at the largest fish market in Asia, in Japan itself, I’m sure you couldn’t find fresher sushi anywhere else in the world.

In the afternoon, after missing a tour bus that didn’t pick us up, in hunt of a public bath. Japan is known for their public baths and we wanted to partake. Unfortunately, the front desk at the hotel told us bad info, we got lost, and never made it to the bath.

So, as it rained, we made our way to the Tokyo National Museum via our familiar local JP Rail station. I’ve always liked Asian art. The museum was good (it didn’t blow me away). Lots of good prints and sculpture. If the weather was better, the garden outside the musuem would have been lovely. Instead we saw gales!

We hustled back to the hotel in the evening and went to meet blog reader Maria and her friend Jake at a metro line to walk to dinner. A wonderful dinner, which I’ll blog about later.

Lights out at 11:30 PM, our first day in Tokyo, still alive!
Our second day the rain completely stopped, sun came out, breeze awoken, and perfect weather shone down us. We started with breakfast at the train station — I’ve gotten to our local station, Shimbashi, quite well — and then the tour bus. The bus drove around and made three key stops: the first at Tokyo Tower (Effifel Tower, basically), the second at the imperial garden, and the third a huge temple. Tokyo Tower was awesome, you really get a sense as to how massive this city is. The skyscrappers are never ending and I have never seen another city in the world with as many tall buildings of all kinds of architecture. The imperial garden offered that typical Japanese aesthetic, which is lovely. The temple also proved fantastic — in addition to the buddhist shrines, there was a huge market. After strolling through the market I cut off to the left, down a side alley, and popped into a sushi bar. The sushi dishes sit on plates and go around on a conveyer belt. You sit at the bar and pick off sushi. I gorged myself for lunch, and then met back up with the group at the bus.
Our last stop tonight is a baseball game, which I will write about after the fact. For now, we’re enjoying the gorgeous weather, friendly people, and interesting culture of Tokyo!
Img_1741 Img_1747

On Being Taller Than Everyone Else

You may be wondering how my ego is doing given that I haven’t met a single local in this country who is taller than me.

Well, I’m happy to report that it hasn’t gone to my head too much. I’m still the same old Ben.

I mean, after awhile you kind of just get used to running the streets, whether it’s San Francisco or Tokyo… 🙂

Arriving in Japan and First Impressions

Some quick thoughts and first impressions after landing in Tokyo! I convinced my Mom to join me for the 1.5 week Japan leg, then I trek out on my own in India and China…Pictures in the next post…

On the Japan Air plane the safety video was produced with cartoons. Have you ever seen an airplane safety video that uses cartoons and not real humans?! Shows how much cartoons are part of the culture.

Prior to landing I had to fill out a disembarkment card. It asked how much money I had in my wallet. I recognized only one of the six currency logos ($) and so I had to write in the word “yen” after 2000.

During the Narita Express train from airport to Tokyo main station my travel memories from the summer re-emerged, both good and bad. The need for water, the sweat, and confusion. The Americans suddenly becoming best friends given our common country of origin.

When the Narita Express train arrived in Tokyo, no one got up except Mom, me, and the other American from Carlsbad, CA. This concerned us. Why were none of the Japanese getting off at Tokyo? Could this really be Tokyo? I scrammbled, asked people outside the train while straddling the station and train, and then jumped off the train, hoping. It was indeed Tokyo.

After stepping into the Tokyo train station — BOOM! Hundreds of people walking super fast ALL wearing dark suits (every Japanese man I’ve seen is wearing a suit). People, people, people. Fast walking. Talking on cells. No, Europe doesn’t compare, Grand Central Station doesn’t compare. Never before had I felt so small in a massive flow of people. As one of the few white people I felt like I was walking in slow motion, and the occasional other white person walking by also felt like he was in slow motion, and we looked at each other as we passed.

After leaving the train station to walk to the hotel we found the weather predictions accurate: rain. Light rain, but steady. As we started walking the streets of Tokyo to our hotel I pondered the transformation in the last 24 hours. Here I was, in a red rain jacket, hood up, holding my backpack with my computer like a baby, wearing another big backpack on my back, sandals and socks, scurrying through a dense street, neon lights beating down on me with an intensity matching the work ethic of the businessmen, seafood scent in the air…in Japan! And only yesterday I was living the reclusive writer’s life in San Francisco!

Finally, the Japanese are extremely friendly. They rival the Portuguese in this sense. Incredible service on the plane, sweet tourist officials, and helpful non-English speaking people on the street. Simply awesome people.

Why Japan, China, and India?

A reader recently asked why I’m going to China, India, and Japan.

I don’t have a really good answer. I wanted to go to Asia, those countries are the three largest economies, and I feel like Southeast Asia is its own trip.

China and India are obviously hot business topics, and Japan is in an interesting place in its history, too.

My main goal in travels is to see as much of the world as possible, so almost any new country would blow my skirt up!

Asia is going to be much more different than Europe. It will be harder in that sense. But I also have two months of backpacking under my belt from June-August, so I’m more equipped to be self-sufficient and resourceful.