Gastronomy

{Posted from Tokyo, Japan} This may sound like an obvious statement, but one of the things I have enjoyed most this week in Tokyo is how attentively I have been able to observe the details of this culture.  It is not just about seeing new things and therefore "observing" a new city; it is more about leaving my hotel room and entering an entirely different environment and not wanting to stick out like an obnoxious, disrespectful sore thumb.  Each new situation I have encountered - a meal, shopping, navigating the subway system, taking a taxi - has given me an opportunity to be still, observe, and follow the examples of what the locals are doing (or what I have been told is the proper etiquette by my fiancee, who has been here dozens of times.)

There is a particular way you give a salesperson your credit card.  There is a particular way they package whatever you buy.  Yesterday I bought some beautiful Japanese paper and one postcard.  The paper was rolled up and placed in a cardboard mailing tube and the postcard was wrapped carefully.  Wrapped, not thrown in a bag.  There is even a specific way they wrap boxes, where only one piece of tape is needed to hold it all together.  All of these details I have noticed and learned simply by allowing myself the time to absorb my surroundings slowly rather than plowing through the day trying to cram in as many activities and sights as possible.  My photographs are of the details of all the neighborhoods I have visited more than of grand, panoramic sights.  The things I notice and appreciate the most are the small things.

Yesterday I visited Asakusa, which is considered "old Tokyo".  There was a fun covered market area and the beautiful Senso-ji Shrine.  It was not quite as crowded, but there were a lot more tourists.  The locals in the area were much older than the three other neighborhoods I have visited, so I saw a lot of small, hunched over Japanese elderly.  Some walking slowly with canes and some cruising around on bicycles.  I also went on a boat ride along the Sumida River, which was a great way to see a lot of the big apartment buildings and their colorful bridges - royal blue, yellow, red and turquoise.

Tokyo has a lot of contradictions.  The people are reserved for the most part and, for lack of a better word, disciplined.  Disciplined in that there is not a lot of honking, they are unfailingly polite and there is very little litter to speak of anywhere in the city.  At the same time, there is color everywhere - from the market displays to the bridges - character animation is wildly popular (even young men have a handful of charms hanging from their cell phones) and karaoke is huge.   I suppose every society has its own acceptable forms of self-expression (individually and culturally) and its own taboos, and those can be quite dichotomous.  Perhaps because this is the most unfamiliar foreign country I have been to I notice these things more, or perhaps I have become a different kind of traveler.  Whatever the reasons, I find so much of this city fascinating, intriguing and beautiful, and being here is giving me a new perspective on the world. "The traveler sees what he sees, the tourist sees what he has come to see." -Gilbert Chesterson

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Christine Mason Miller

Santa Barbara, CA

Writer * Artist * Storyteller * Guide