“How was your trip to Tokyo?” Words gushed as I told friends rambling stories inspired by memories as I swiped through my photos: “Oh, the guy with the bunny! And then . . . which reminds me of that restaurant . . . but there was this tower . . . wait–I forgot about . . . .”
My short four-day adventure was packed with so many memorable experiences. So overwhelmingly many that, a year later, I still hadn’t yet written about that trip. Oh, I’ve got a whole folder stuffed full of scribbled notes and some 125 gorgeous memory-provoking images, the thought of which made my shoulders sag. Organizing those details into coherent content was daunting. And felt like work.
Sigh. No matter how much I wanted to tell about Tokyo, I couldn’t seem to make any headway.
How do I bust through this writer’s block?
My dusty old bag of English teacher tricks coughed up a time-tested prompt: select a photo, look closely, and write. Focus on feelings; find what is special; see what comes up.
Tokyo, March 4, 2018
Armed with my phonetically written essential Japanese phrases (sue ME mah sen, or “excuse me”; ohio gah ZEYE mas, “good morning”; kon NEE chee wah, “hello”; and AH rhee gato go ZEYE mas, “thank you”), I set off to explore.
That morning, my primary goal was the Meguro Sky Garden, an urban oasis constructed on a coil of highways, smack dab in the middle of the city. That height gives a stunning view of Mt. Fuji (on a clear day, that is). Our hotel was only about 4 kilometers–about a 10-minute walk–from the Sky Garden and what better way to learn a city than stroll through the neighborhoods?
Being early March, the weather was not quite wintery but not truly spring-like either. The sky was gray; a faint threat of rain loomed; slight breezes blew. But the temperature was pleasant–perfect for walking–and I quickly passed from Meguro’s business area into family neighborhoods.
No matter where I wandered, Tokyo’s beauty took my breath away. The metropolitan area is huge: 13.75 million people, as of 2015. Meguro is one of 23 wards, each with its own unique personality, that comprise the Tokyo prefecture. Whether the view was modern skyscrapers, ancient statues, perfectly manicured gardens, bustling subway stations, or everyday people, out and about on their daily business, I was fascinated and enchanted.
I walked down the neighborhood street and turned the corner to stumble on a small park. Was it on my map? I looked for a sign and found none; the modest space was more greenway than sightseeing destination. But the sound of laughing children caught my attention and I paused.
Oh, it’s a week day, I thought. School kids, out for recess, working off some energy before the rain comes.
Kids are kids. As I watched, they shrieked and chased one another; a few collected sticks; some crouched down, intent upon the ground. The lone blooming cherry tree seemed to attract everyone. Most of the other trees were still bare but this one, just atop a slight hill, was gorgeously awash in brilliant pink cherry blossoms. Against the somber clouds, surrounded by playing children, the tree felt old and sacred.
That scene infused me with such a peaceful, happy feeling. I’d feel that again and again as I wandered across Tokyo. A little later on, a class of children approached me on a narrow sidewalk; carefully passing, we all bowed and offered “good mornings” (me in Japanese; they–teachers and small children alike–in English, because everyone happily wants to practice speaking with tourists) and my insides about burst from the simple pleasure.
Everywhere, and often, I experienced gracious moments.
Throughout my adventures, I encountered many cherry blossoms at various gardens, temples, and metropolitan sites but none were quite as striking as this tree. And no other instant seemed to embody the spirit of Tokyo quite like this small but beautiful interaction.
More about Tokyo
Westin Tokyo (where to stay)
Visit the Meguro Sky Garden
“Tokyo, the city with the World’s Largest Population Density” (facts and figures)
When is Tokyo’s cherry blossom season? (2019 is 5 days earlier than normal)
I love a national garden! Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden
Cherry Blossoms in Austin?
You can get a sense of Tokyo’s magical cherry blossom season here in Austin at Lucky Robot (1303 S. Congress Ave.). Now through May 6, the sushi restaurant and modern Japanese kitchen houses an installation inspired by the owner’s trip to Tokyo. He also created a special menu to match the decor; when you order from the Cherry Blossom Omakase Menu, 20 percent of proceeds benefit The Trail Foundation.
I profiled Lucky Robot for Austin Fit Magazine (“The Future of Fitness,” April 2013) and have often written about TTF, which helps preserve and upkeep Austin’s treasured hike and bike trail surrounding Lady Bird Lake (see “Taking on Austin’s Downtown Trail” for more about this special route).