Tokyo by Kathryn Gundersen
(adapted from Kathryn’s blog)
As it’s been over two weeks since I came home, this post is a little bit late—however, since during those two weeks I packed for school, moved into school, shopped for classes, and officially made my schedule, I think I can be pardoned. Regardless, I wanted to take a moment to share my thoughts about my long weekend in Tokyo after leaving Beijing.
China and Japan are about as different as two countries in the same region that even share part of an alphabet could possibly be, and that much was evident to me immediately upon stepping off my five-hour-delayed plane in Narita International Airport. China (and this is to be expected particularly because I was in the country’s capital city) radiated power, regality, and history, as evidenced by the ornate and imposing architecture of all Beijing’s major destinations and buildings. This is something I really admired—however, in some parts of the city I did feel a sense of disorder. This didn’t bother me, but it definitely made Japan’s differences more pronounced upon my arrival.
Despite being the most populous metropolitan area in the world, Tokyo immediately gave me a feeling of serenity and calmness. There was soft, traditional Japanese music playing through the airport corridor as we walked to customs. While mostly an ultra-modern mega-metropolis, the city had green space and parks dispersed throughout, complete with koi ponds (so Japan, right?) and temples and shrines with much subtler, softer architecture than those in China. On our first night we went to a hot spring spa and walked around barefoot in yukatas (what we know as kimonos) until 2AM. Everything was just soothing—yes, in a city of over 13 million, I felt soothed. And this was super important, in light of what happened to me within an hour of entering the country.
I don’t think I could’ve chosen a better place to lose my passport if I tried. That’s not to say that it still didn’t suck when, as we were outside Tokyo Station asking for directions to our hotel, I realized with horror that I’d left the plastic bag containing my sweatshirt, painted chopsticks from China, and my passport on the train from the airport. But as we ran frantically from employee to employee—or rather, as I cried, and Steve, my blockmate (Harvard lingo for freshman year friends you choose to live with for the next three years), best friend, and ultimate lifesaver in this situation, did most of the talking—it was pretty clear that everyone was going to do whatever they could to help. After all, this place was a well-oiled machine.
Long and exhausting story short, I never got my passport back. I’m sure they would’ve found it eventually (everyone says the Japanese are amazing about finding and returning lost things), but I was only there for a few days. I was able to rush an emergency passport in the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo the morning of my flight home, so everything worked out in the end with only a few hours of inconvenience. I’m not going to get over the sentimental loss of my first passport and all its stamps anytime soon, but at least I’m not stranded in Japan, right?
Even though this was obviously an awful accident, it in no way tainted my enjoyment of this incredible city. There’s really no way to describe how cool Tokyo is until you see it for yourself, particularly at night from the top of the Roppongi Hills SkyDeck, looking out over the sparkling, colorful lights and the endless sea of skyscrapers. There’s no way to describe walking down Takeshita Street in Harajuku, which is about as strangely kawaii as you could imagine. And there’s certainly no way to describe the food—after two unbelievable meals in Tsukiji Fish Market, sushi in the West will always, always be disappointing.
Even after only a weekend, Tokyo has pushed its way into my elite trio of favorite cities in the world, its companions currently being London and Rome. I will absolutely be back, hopefully to explore more of Japan, an amazing country that has truly caught my attention. It was a (nearly, damn passport issues) perfect end to an absolutely incredible and eye-opening trip to Asia, and I can’t think of a better way to have ended my summer.