Monday, October 7, 2013

Day 6

Oh Tokyo. Where to even begin with you. For anyone who knows me well, one of my many weakness and irrational fears is being cramped into small spaces and pressed into mass crowds against my will. And yet early yesterday morning, after a morning snack of Mr. Donuts and coffee, we boarded the Shinkansen train and headed straight for the heart of exactly this kind of insanity.

My dad, having witnessed just a small spectacle of what a two person elevator can do to my psyche, told me that regardless of my qualms about space that I needed to go and experience it just to see it all. Since we wouldn't be staying there but more than a few hours on our trek to Hono, I was able to shakily prep myself for what was to come.Or so I thought.

The minute I stepped off the train I quickly realized that nothing could have prepared me for what those few hours would hold

Immediately we were swept into the moving swarm. The station seemed to me the equivalent of a large hive. It had its own electric buzz. The only difference between this scene and the one in nature, was that none of the metaphorical "bees" looked anything alike. The train station lobby was really the first time I had seen an array of nationalities on the trip other than the Japanese. In addition to the various ethnicities represented there were number of outrageous and beautiful styles represented as well. Such strange sights I have never seen, not even during my few years residency in Chicago.

Just as the heat and the merging masses were about to overtake my senses and I began to border on shut down mode, we turned the corner and went underneath a massive archway that ushered us to a road sequestered by towering oaks. The further away we trekked from the city, the closer we came to one of the most well known Shinto shrines and its surrounding gardens.

There was sap on tree bark the size of large, amber marbles and the birds above sang their tunes in such volume that it would seem you had stumbled back into some prehistoric time. There were of course still numbers of people, but the grey, pebbled road leading towards the temple gates was the size of a highway. I walked in awe that just moments ago we were in the bustling chaos of one of the most populated cities in the world and then suddenly I was here, breathing the scent of forest and flowers and watching people walk around the temple courts, writing down prayers and hanging them at the base of one of two towering trees. My dad told me to always look at the placement of trees in places like this. That unlike most architectural feats, the Japanese incorporated nature into their designs as key elements of structure. So for example, while it is easy to walk into the courtyard and see only the large tiered roofs and intricate tiles, the two towering tree pillars that had been there for hundreds of years were perhaps the true glory of that place.

As we headed to leave we noticed a traditional wedding taking place further off in the distance. The timing of being able to see something like this is just not something you can ever plan. To see the image of a young woman, shrouded in ceremonial garb and mystery, glance adoringly at her husband for just a split second before proceeding on to the other more serious aspects of tradition was an image that will forever be engrained in my mind.

I felt refreshed and at peace and ready to face my fear yet again...

From now on, Michigan Avenue will forever seem like a barren wasteland to me. The city boasted of so many shiny stores, flashing lights, high fashion advertisements, and loud music that it was no wonder that it attracted so many people to join in this spectacle. For a while we took ourselves out of the moving current and sat on a guardrail watching all the different styles pour through this street funnel. We saw bright colors and outrageous hair styles, tights, spikes, pony tails, fur, lace, leather, jewels, red lipstick, red blush, pumps, flats, boots and bows.

Since the humidity continued to rise we made our way to an indoor coffee shop and remained there until our next train. I had come to Tokyo, I had jumped in its race and felt its rush, and I was ready to leave.

But there was one last hurdle before I could get to Hono for the night and that was boarding the outgoing shuttle. Here I thought I had gone below the city streets and could happily wave to the chaos behind me...but as our car pulled up on the track and I saw through the windows what awaited me inside it was clear that this was not the case.

Sweet mother of all. "You have got to be kidding me." I told my Dad. He of course just laughed and told me to go to my happy place. I can assure you that "happy places" are not easily accessed when you are pressed up against a strange old man's chest and are close enough to count each individual hair on his greying beard.

But somehow I survived, and even managed to laugh and take a picture in the midst of it all to send to my husband with the caption, "...this is my NIGHTMARE!"

Once in Hono and headed towards rest for the evening, I made sure to check Tokyo off my list of life experiences. I may always shake my head and raise my eyebrows whenever anyone asks me my take on it all, but I will always do so with a fond smile and say of that colorful place that it is inhabited by exactly the kind of people that can truly appreciate it. The crazy ones.

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