Tokyo is insane. Space is a luxury and so is time to breathe.
After recovering from hiking Mt. Fuji by taking a long nap I walked through the city taking it all in. My senses were overloaded as just about everywhere I went resembled a Times Square display of lights, sounds, smells, and experience.
Around dinner-time I stopped into a fantastic respite from the city to grab a bite to eat in a Tempura bar. Here the chefs had a mastery and dedication to their craft that was astounding. They would take tiger prawns from the tank, kill them, shell them, and then batter and fry them up with a precision that fascinated me. Sitting at the bar I had a front-row seat to the entire spectacle and it was interesting to see the ritualistic approach to their job that they took.
These chefs treated their work like a karate master treats his practice or a flower arranger treats their arrangements. With focused practice that recognizes the fact that too much is just as bad as too little and thus perfection in every action is required. It would not surprise me if tempura had a school or Ryu in Japan with traditions passed down from master to student that formalized the methods behind each action. Its the same mentality that has driven Ichiro to 3,000 hits in the MLB and it is amazing to watch in person.
Some things like this are unique and representative of the spirit of the Japanese people. Some things are universal no matter what language you speak and where you are. After dinner I wanted to test this, so I went to a gay bar.
Gay bars are universal. I’ve now been in one in 8 countries and even in Japan they have the same types of people, the same focus, and the same easy-going nature that lets you introduce yourself to someone, hear their story, and start to make friendships. It also always has that sage old queen ready to dish out life advice whether you ask for it or not. Last night his name was Phil and after chatting for a bit I learned that he had grown up in Australia and now managed a tour company here in Tokyo. He told me what to go see in Tokyo and what to avoid and as universal truths go he led myself and a gaggle of gays down the road to a drag karaoke night which felt like I was back in DC with the Gay Men’s Chorus of Washington.
I have barely stopped moving since landing in Tokyo because it is such a busy city and I have so little time to experience it. But I’m finding that in its own unique way, you can find the time to breathe and escape the city just by stepping through a door. I don’t think this is unique to Japan but something that I can find in my daily life wherever my life take me.