The path wound through trees, around flower beds, across open fields. Benches lined the walks, a coffee shop sat across the street, and several playgrounds dotted the park. People filled the open areas playing soccer and tag, skateboarding, rollerblading, or practicing martial arts. Daycare groups classified by their hat colors all held on to one long leash. The scene made me smile – people enjoying the outdoors in the middle of a city. It could have been in Washington DC, Buenos Aires, or Paris. This time, it was in Tokyo, during our first 24 hours in the metropolis.
I scoped out Google Maps and had spotted this green area near our apartment. It is a standard practice these days in hopes that out of several parks nearest our lodging will be somewhere to do pullups. Although occasionally it leads to less than stellar results, it always offers glimpses of a city or town I wouldn’t get otherwise. The physical exertion is also great.
We had arrived the previous day on the bullet train from Hiroshima. After multiple transfers on the confusing subway system, our cute and colorful apartment was a welcome sanctuary. We didn’t feel the best, so a dinner from McDonald’s hit the spot. It is only in rare instances we eat from the golden arches, but when the time calls for some of their amazingly addictive not-the-best-for-you-barely-actual-food comfort food, nothing else will do. This one happened to include multiple Hawaiian inspired options, assumingly due to the Japanese affection for those islands, so it was a double take of comfort.
Several destinations stood out while planning our time in Japan. A general timeline became clear once we looked at special events at each location. Tokyo has one of the largest firework displays in the world every year as part of the Sumida River Fireworks Festival, and the show was scheduled for July 29th this year. We finalized our dates around the show – eight days to explore the bustling city.
On the day of the show we visited the National Museum. Modern and traditional buildings house a wide array of artifacts; massive wooden gates provide a glimpse to past security at the entrance. Although one could easily spend days taking in all there is to see, we chose to wander through one of the traditional art galleries. It is always wild to see items from more than one thousand years ago, and there were so many here! Sculptures, paintings, armor, everyday items, paper scrolls and more filled the rooms. Photos were generally not allowed, which made it easier to enjoy the museum without worrying about capturing anything.
I find the Japanese aesthetic beautifully simple, and some of the paintings on display were stunningly so. The artists’ use of negative space, or the portion of the canvas/paper/silk left untouched, was impressive. Several of the pieces were largely blank, with only just enough filled space to convey the image. I found myself stopped to gaze at scenes of a tree next to the ocean or a foggy mountain town with surprising frequency.
Although museums can be amazing, they are also exhausting. Ninety minutes after we entered we were ready for a break. Rain had started to come down while we were inside, and we hadn’t brought an umbrella. This was another lesson in Japanese preparedness – nearly everyone else was happily dry. Luckily the museum is an area full of mature trees; the broad avenue lined with giant ginkgo biloba trees guided us to a popular street for dining with little need for other cover.
The rain complicated our plans for the fireworks. We knew the show had been canceled in previous years due to weather; it wouldn’t be rescheduled, either, since the logistics for such a show are complex. Now it was just an issue of whether the show would be canceled. The status was not updated online, so there was no way to know if it was going to happen. Dinner would pass some time while we waited to make our decision.
Kathryn had wanted to take me to a conveyor belt sushi restaurant since she visited one on her way through Tokyo from deployment. A recommended option was close by, so we headed there to wait for nightfall. The rain was increasing, and when we sat down for dinner it became pretty clear what we both preferred. Lively conversations flowed all around us. Empty sake and beer bottles abounded. Plate after plate of sushi and sashimi passed right in front of us. We didn’t want to sit in the rain to watch some fireworks, no matter how awesome the show was supposed to be. To help our decision, the downpour and forecasted thunderstorm made it all but certain the show would be canceled. This eased our minds and we settled in for dinner.
The concept of conveyor belt sushi restaurants is intriguing. The dishes are placed on different colored plates that correspond to their price. At the end of your meal, the staff adds up your bill based on your stack of empty plates. One style, a type of mackerel, was my favorite; the smooth skin felt buttery and the taste was delightful. However, neither of us were too taken with the selection, and the thought of our ever-increasing bill with the height of our stacks won out against our appetites.
With the rest of our night free, we moved on to the next place, a bar directly beneath the train tracks that offered craft beer and other treats. The dark and cozy interior invited us for just one more as the rain continued to pour and frequent rumbles signaled another passing train.
These nights are some of our favorite. As much as we love to see the sites, it is just as enjoyable to simply experience a new place through its food and drink. A rainy day is a perfect opportunity to do so as it washes away the guilt of “missing out.” Plans change as frequently as the weather, and as long as we are flexible, we will never run out of memorable experiences. Cheers!
© Cheers Life Partners 2017