Walking the narrow streets and alleyways near our tiny Tokyo apartment I am filled with a sense of comfort and familiarity.
The air is warm and humid even at this late hour. The smoke from yakitori stands beckons me, filling my nose with the aroma of chicken and pork. As the doors to izakayas and sushi joints are drawn open I can hear the call of those behind the counter welcoming the new guests or wishing those leaving a good evening.
I cannot understand a word that is said. And I love it.
We are outside of the hustle and bustle of downtown Tokyo; 20 minutes down a local train line where we can feel the ebb and flow of a real neighbourhood. In the morning school girls make their way to the high school down the street as salary men and office girls head the other way toward the train station. In the evening the flow is reversed and those yakitori stands, izakayas and sushi joints fill with men and women grabbing a quick meal on their way home.
I love the closeness of the streets; it feels cocooning and welcoming. I love that the mix of pedestrians, bicycles, cars, scooters, buses and trucks all organically weave together on the narrow roadways. I love that, although we are clearly different, the formality and politeness of Japan dictates that we are not stared at but, should we need help, someone will help us immediately.
It is quiet. Thirty six million people live in Tokyo – that is the entire population of Canada – and yet Jason and I can walk down the street and have a quiet conversation. And yet it is not quiet. We had an evening in an izakaya where raucous laughter spilled out into the alley and we were drawn in by the possibility of a good time – we were not disappointed.
The food is familiar, and yet different. We enjoy a lot of Asian and Japanese food at home but here we are not sure of how it all works. There are particular places to go for particular types of food and we haven’t figured it all out yet. For now we stumble about, probably breaking as many rules as we are following, happy to take it as it comes.