In the most precious moments of travel, when I have that simulaneous sense of awe and a somehow comforting feeling that I understand just how amazing the world is, the last thing I usually think to do is pause and attempt to put it into words. I’m always envious of travel writers who capture a moment so well that those of us reading can not just see, smell, and taste it, but we understand the feeling of being there. It’s the feeling that’s the most difficult to capture.
Now that my feet are back on solid ground, and I’m no longer looking out over a frost-bitten Tokyo from the 35th floor with a glass of champagne, I wish the feeling I recall from that moment was a bit more…present. Instead, here I sit at my kitchen counter, staring down a pile of dirty dishes overwhelming the sink.
The glamour is gone.
Fortunately, I feel certain that Tokyo was one of those places that I will remember well in the vivid bits and pieces that have come back to me in quiet moments this week. I’ll remember the sheer number of people in Shibuya at night and the contrast of eating piping hot crisp-creamy octopus balls in the cold, dry air.
I’ll remember the serenity of the tree-lined walk to Meiji Shrine and the prayer cards in hundreds of languages hanging in its courtyard.
For absolute certain, I’ll remember the comic chaos of the train stations and the subway maps that look like oversized crossword puzzles gone awry.
And the frozen mochi donuts (mochi on the outside – fruit , chocolate, and cream on the inside) that we had to let thaw while we drank lattes nearby so that we could eat them on the spot.
I’ll definitely think of the tiny door in the basement of a walk-up in Shinjuku where we ate the most magnificently crisp gyoza in a cozy ten-table nook. Our (very close) neighbors stole polite glances at our delight over the food.
Come to think of it, what I’ll remember most about the trip were the tiny restaurants. The hidden places that we bravely entered to confused looks and linguistic hurdles, but were rewarded with dishes that contained mysterious subtleties and flavors I could never even begin to name. The food was remarkable. Rich soups, crisp vegetables, and rice that on its own was deep and satisfying enough to suffice as a meal. We had panko-breaded fried chicken the likes of which I have never experienced, udon noodles that wrapped themselves in the flavor of steaming broth and bounced on the tongue. The food was fantastic.
On our last day, grabbing breakfast on the top floor of our hotel at 6:30 so that we could make an early train to the airport, we looked out over the city and saw Mt. Fuji crystal clear in blue twilight sky. The camera was packed, we were bundled in our coats and holding hot coffee for the road, but we couldn’t resist a moment to take it all in.
I can’t describe the feeling of that moment. But maybe that one wasn’t meant for words.