Do you know what it’s like after a really good snow storm, when the roads become passable but everyone still stays at home, because they’ve loaded their fridge and they feel safe there? Tokyo was that way Saturday and Saturday night to me. The city continued to return to normal after the earthquake (see Another earthquake, an eerie silence, and the Japanese people and The City Awakens), yet the streets were much less crowded than a normal Saturday. Many shops were closed. Having completed my business mission here, and departing on Sunday, I wanted to venture out and tour—the 5AM fish market receiving the most recommendations. Only on Saturday it was purported to be closed. Okay for me, for as much as I wanted to get out, I also wanted to talk home and Tokyo morning is best for speaking to the US. Even asking my Guest Attendant Marika about touring, she was concerned for me venturing out—not for my safety, not even for appearances (which are so important in this culture), but I think for my “mental health.” Even though Tokyo was “okay,” the city was clinging to its own. People were with family. People were staying home.
But for me, sanity was getting out. Too much Skype, Facebook, and Outlook can cause other mental health issues. Besides the day was beautiful and I needed some exercise. So I took off. I visited a few traditional sites. I believe this is Senso-Ji and Asakusa-jinja, peacefully coexisting Buddhist and Shinto temples. The crowd in the markets around the temple were thick, though many of the hawker stalls were closed. I also had traditional food at Diakokuya, a “famous” tempura place, with only three other diners, but I enjoyed sitting and watching the chefs at work, experts intensely focused on their tasks at hand.
Next I ventured two subway rides away to Kagaruzaka, formerly a vibrant geisha quarter, now an incredibly “San Francisco-esque” neighborhood, with hilly alleys, great shopping, tons of restaurants and cool little bars. Again, I’m told the streets on a Saturday afternoon are usually packed. Shopkeepers were courteous, though many had TVs blaring, and their conversations subdued. I finished my afternoon visiting the Imperial Palace. I debarked from the subway a few stops too early, but walked the mile or so to the palace grounds, only to find the palace closed. Unfortunately, I couldn’t read the signs to find out why—to me the gates were just closed. I had run the palace grounds my first two days here, and skipped the opportunity to enter then, and now I would not have that opportunity. I did get to enjoy the gorgeous grounds and moats and fountains around the palace, and even helped a couple take a picture, and got this one in return.
Throughout the day, I enjoyed my sightseeing, but I also realized that between early that morning and midday here, I had called every single member of my family. I needed to connect to people, and there was no one here to connect to. I felt like I too was clinging to the conversations, however normal they were.
I ended the day on a more social note, visiting the Roppongi section of town, the least Japanese part of Japan, because of its mixes of government and businesses, and Japanese and gaijin. Through my Lonely Planet guide, I found Bernd and Bernd’s Bar, a German pubeatery (like that word!). Bernd’s was a bit off the beaten path, down a quiet alley, us a set of stairs, the opening into what could easily fit on the Charlottesville corner. I met Bernd and his wife and bartender, all three of whom spoke perfect English. A very interesting development: I also ran into an independent Spanish photo journalism team (journalist Ofelia de Pablo), working in Japan for a German magazine, first to cover something about German tourism in Japan, but suddenly reassigned to get people’s (particularly German’s) reactions to the earthquake. Ofelia interviewed me—I directed her to my blog from the day’s events. The bar, the interview, the Spanish-only speaking photographer, Bernd, the German beer, the few Japanese patrons, the TV covering the earthquake and nuclear reactor meltdown, and even my last Japanese meal: a scene in which I too could cling to something—a ragtag group of new friends in a familiar setting, not needing to say much, but enjoying being together.
Now, I think I see what Marika was insinuating this morning—that I shouldn’t go out because I needed to bond with others that touring cannot allow, even though of course staying in my hotel room would also not have accomplished much. But what I discovered was that what I needed to find was a group to which I could cling, at least for a few hours.