In Tokyo, day 1: Asakusa
The trip started with serious work.
During the flight from Newark to Narita there were many movies available in the personal entertainment system, some quite appealing since I would not easily have access to them; movies like a selection from Tribeca Film Festival, Bolt from the Blue, Genome Hazard, Horseplay, Samurai Hustle, The Monkey King, The Snow White Murder Case, or TV shows like Hanasaki Mai Speaks Out, Happy Camp, Secret Series, Tasty Road, Treasures of the Country… but I had access to electrical current outlet plug, so I slept 4 hours and worked on my laptop for 9 hours straight, with “Creep” by Radiohead playing in single repeat mode. I love the song, and lyrics, since I re-discovered through the cover in Terry Gilliam’s Zero Theorem’s soundtrack.
Thanks to SeatGuru I knew I would have access to electricity, that’s why I self-imposed a tough challenge: to write a “Translational Bioinformatics Innovation” textbook for my students at the Open University of Catalonia (in Spanish), in one flight. In order to put more pressure onto myself, I tweeted it, #ChallengeAccepted hashtag included. And, guess what? I did it! Of course it needs a lot of editing. I might even translate it to English. In any case, as soon as it is completely ready, I will post it here for anyone to download with a CC (0) or )S( license, so anyone will be able to modify it, copy it, and even sell it.
Once I arrived to Narita I took the KS line straight to my hotel, 55min., located in Sumida, literally across the new Tokyo SkyTree Tower.
It was almost two days after I left, since we crossed the international day line, and although I do not “suffer” from jet-lag, I felt a little disoriented, so I stuck to my rule of thumb: no matter what my body asks me to do, when I arrive at a destination, I must adjust to the local time. That meant I had to remain awake for a few more hours before finally laying down on my futon. Time to hit Tokyo streets!
In any other destination that would have meant exploring new places. I am hungry for experiences and knowledge, so I usually I refrain from repeating locations. Tokyo is different. My favorite city in the world, I felt nostalgia of Tokyo, which added to my disorientation, meant I was going to take a walk around a familiar place: Asakusa.
A few steps from the A line station the Kaminarimon gate greeted me like an old friend. After a check-in (not easy, since all the places listed were in Japanese), I wandered in zigzag through Nakamise street and its parallels, like a foreplay slowly and inevitable leading to my rendezvouz with the Senso-ji temple.
“I need a new, better camera”, I thought. My phone’s camera is not enough, specially in dim light. And the sunset was making it a challenge to take pictures that were a piece of cake with the old DSLR that my ex-wife kept. But the garden, temple, figures, gate, streets… all stood there as if posing for me, as if they had been waiting for me for centuries. I don’t have any doubt that I feel a special connexion with Tokyo, and all things Japanese. But as with anything in life and love, one has to learn to also let go and not try to “hold” too much. So I said good night to the fish in the pond, and took Nakamise, where I bought a delicious green tea and sweet white bean paste fried bun. That gave me the energy I needed to walk back to the hotel, instead of taking the subway.
Not that I know my way around Tokyo’s streets that well, but the SkyTree is such a visible beacon, like the Empire State building in NY, that I felt confident I would have no problem going back; and I didn’t.
After taking pictures of the Asahi Beer Hall, with its golden “drop” or “foam” structure on top, from the Azuma-bashi bridge, I went through Solamachi’s Food Marche (2F) knowing what an overwhelming feeling of joy it is to see all those food vendors together, specially the sweets. Japanese restaurants outside Japan do not usually have that many (or good) dessert options, so we Westeners tend to think the Japanese do not make good desserts. How wrong we are! Beyond Wagashi, their confectionary is top notch, and of course it is presented in the most delicate and harmonious way, like everything they wrap. One example: after a delicious (and very affordable) tray of sashimi, I had the best pear-and-cream crêpe I have had in my life (and I have had excellent crêpes in many places, including countless cities and towns in France).
With my tummy full and my palate happy, still licking my whiskers, I made it to the hotel, where Kuma, the hotel’s owners pug dog, was awaiting me to play. Fun! Now time to hit the futon.