I went to China a few years ago with a girlfriend and really struggled to enjoy myself. We had ten days there and saw everything from Shanghai to Beijing to Xi An. We walked the Great Wall and toured the Forbidden City and took photos with the terra cotta soldiers. We went to the silk factory and the pearl factory and the knock off handbag mall. We went to the top of the space needle and ate at one of the best restaurants in the city. But in the end, it just was…meh.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m so glad to have toured this pocket of the world and to see such a vastly different culture, but until now, I couldn’t figure out what was missing from that experience years ago.
Now let me contrast that experience with the one we just had in Tokyo. The countries are close, geographically, and many Japanese traditions have admittedly been adopted from China, so I expected that I’d have a similar experience. But no way. Toyo has completely blown me out of the water.
Now, true, this time we toured the city according to our own terms, rather than on the tour bus that carted me around China. We could take more time at the Tokyo National Museum to appreciate the military attire. We could get lost trying to find the Bonsai museum for the traditional tea ceremony we attended. We could find ourselves in a calligraphy store with staff who spoke little English for an impromptu calligraphy class, ultimately learning how to ink, “Family” and “Home.” We could convince our rickshaw driver to switch places with Andrew for a minute. Japan took more effort on our part. More thought. More creativity.
But, when it really comes down to it, I was most amazed by the people here. They are quiet, calm, polite, reverential (almost). Every person we met, from the restaurant server to the street sweeper to the Bonsai caretaker to the tea master, took such great pride in their work and care with their trade. And every person, from the calligraphy shop staff to the woman at the lunch counter who offered us four (count them-four) umbrellas as a “gift” when it started to rain, to the taxi driver who asked all around and ultimately stood in the rain (without and umbrella) to ensure we were taking the correct bus to get to Narita Airport, was so generous with all they had.
We felt truly respected, served, loved by Tokyo. As did each of the buildings and streets, who received just as meticulous care from their hosts. Tokyo is authentic. It is thoughtful. Kind.
Tokyo, we love you. And you should be proud of how different you are.