Dear Tokyo,

I’m in a dimly lit shop in one of your many narrow alleys, spider vein streets that diverge from the neon lights and sounds of vitality. There are only 4 chairs — black stools the paint slightly peeling — a matching black counter with sparse condiments lined up. A bowl of abura soba: hot, thick soup, the corn-colored noodles kinky, 2 fat slices of pork and a generous sprinkling of green onions and seaweed flakes. It goes down heavy: the kind of food that makes the pull of gravity a little more intense, makes you feel grounded, stable.

You taught me to stop walking with my head in the clouds.

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Tokyo. You are dusty old ramen shops, neon lights, the smothering heat of July. There’s something about those lights that cause the days to blur together until all that’s left are individual moments that seem to stretch on for days: 3 am walking home next to a Japanese businessmen stumbling down the street, his tie undone. Riding the train with a hundred people crammed in a car, not a single conversation blooms-- the soft jingle of keys alleviating the smothering silence. The Starbucks directly above Shibuya crossing: watching floods of people pour into the street in two minute intervals: crossing in every direction imaginable. 

      Dear Hakuba,

We arrived after a 6 hour bus ride watching fluorescent green rice fields flit by to the backdrop of the blue mountains. In that first moment, I realized how quiet you are. No cars. No white noise.The first day, we might have seen 4 other people. Growing up in the suburbs of Detroit and Boston, it was smaller than anywhere I have ever lived. The first night, sitting with my legs tucked beneath me in my tatami room, the silence had a pulse, it was all I could hear.

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If Tokyo is a sharp intake of breath, you were a soft exhale. Relaxed, slow, willing to let time settle and still. Slowly, I grew to appreciate the empty spaces in sound and commotion: your cold clear lakes: diving in at sunset and the surface breaks like shards of pink glass.

 

The restaurants we'd frequent:  the bakery down the road where there is fresh bread baked six days a week with roasted nuts, cheese, berries, and chocolate. The sun lit restaurant by the blueberry farm. The soba place with tempura that’s always perfectly golden.

 

The gondolas we would take up to the snow capped mountains, and from up there, we can see you in your entirety, a village hugged by mountains on every side: a gentle spilling of red roofs and narrow roads in the belly of Japan