In this series of articles, Réka, an active member of JACCU will cherish every moment of what she has experienced in Japan from a foreigner’s perspective. This is the first chapter of her journey, Réka’s Tales – Tokyo.
Summer is fast approaching, maybe not fast enough in the Netherlands but we cannot help the excitement. The first sight of an unknown city, the new and unfamiliar noises, getting lost and finding hidden gems, discovering my new favourite dish. This is how I remember summer. While we have to wait a little more before we can once again set foot in faraway places, one can always travel down the memory lane and revisit cherished adventures. Some places leave long-lasting memories, ones that we can recall instantly in a twinkle. The Japanese capital is definitely one of those for me. This article, Réka’s tales – Tokyo is a collection of my vivid recollection.
Tokyo – The city of lights
My first impression of Tokyo? This city really never sleeps, a cliche about big cities but particularly remarkable here. The lights, the noises, the constant rush, the magic behind every closed door, I didn’t want to sleep either. Here is the recollection of my diary about my first day in Tokyo.
After my semester ended in Seoul, I decided to use the remaining of my time to explore as much as possible. I generally get more excited to see places which are not so touristy so my story with Japan began in Saga Prefecture, but I’ll leave that for another time.
My first day in Tokyo starts with a night. A night of wandering through the always lit, crowded streets, trying to choose from the endless options of diners and restaurants and being captivated and overwhelmed by the rhythm of the city. The smell of fresh ramen, the flashy, colourful neon signs outshining the dark of the night and the tipsy salarymen trying so hard to stay awake on the metro well describes my first glance. Tokyo’s welcome was no ordinary.
After years of living in the Netherlands, which I consider probably the most organized country in terms of urban planning, cities in East Asia seemed like giant labyrinths to me. Finding my way in Tokyo Metro was a challenge I’m still yet to rise up to but it’s fun to get off at the wrong station and explore other parts of the city. Except if it’s your first day and you are really truly lost. That was probably the overwhelming highpoint of the first day but let me show my favourite bits.
Why I find Tokyo so exciting is partly because of the architecture, it’s the perfect blend of traditional shrines, shiny skyscrapers, tori gates and aesthetic modern buildings. And the best thing is that it feels like they are dispersed through the city so randomly, you can never know where you will bump into a postcard worthy landscape.
Sensō-ji – A vibrant memory
This is Sensō-ji (浅草寺), in Asakusa – Tokyo’s oldest and one of the most significant temples. It is one of the few temples that share grounds also with a shrine because in modern times, emperors were pushing to separate Shinto and Buddhism. I first discovered it during that late night walk, and it was a complete surprise, gleaming in hazy red lights, carrying a scent of heaviness mixed with incense. It was quiet and still at that time; I could roam around the many tiny streets leading up to it which is in stark contrast with what was waiting for me the next day.
I went back in the daylight to see a completely different picture: endless crowds, loud chatter from the stalls along the road, women in kimonos getting out of rickshaws and a mysterious smoke in the middle of this overfilled memory.
The smoke came from a large earthenware in front of the main temple and people were pushing to get closer to it. I later learnt that they burn incense there which is believed to have a healing effect and purify the body of the visitors. It smelled amazing even in the humid, scorching hot sweaty summer of Tokyo.
Omikuji – Draw a fortune
The other reason why Senso-ji remains such a vibrant memory to me is because this is where I first discovered the omikuji, or the paper fortune. It has a nearly 1000 years long history and was used to hear divine opinion on important matters. One can find them in Japan in almost every shrine so there are plenty of opportunities to get ahead of your time. I’m intrigued by all kinds of fortune telling, tarot readings and these sorts of fads so I couldn’t miss the chance to try my luck with these little papers.
There are 7 types of omikuji, ranging from daikichi (大吉 excellent luck), to the worst daikyou (大凶 terrible luck). There is a special way of drawing the omikuji, you first have to shake a hexagonal box until a rod comes out which will contain a set of numbers. There are tiny drawers on the wall near the temple with numbers and you have to find the matching one, open it and there it is: your future.
Despite the enthusiasm and my strong belief in beginners’ luck, I actually got the second worst one. I was starting to feel a bit disappointed but then I was told that I can just leave it. Quite literally, the tradition is to tie bad omikujis to a designated area from where they will be collected and burnt away taking their negative message with them. What a relief!
The latter part of the day was spent with more walking, a bit of exquisite Japanese cuisine, peach water and matcha ice from the vending machines (which are really everywhere!).
So the tale has begun
Thank you for reading Réka’s Tales – Tokyo. I hope this short recollection of my first steps on the streets of Tokyo took you on a little imaginary journey. I certainly enjoyed getting the dust off of these photos.
Stay tuned for the next article of Réka’s Tales to get to know more about Tokyo and Japan from my perspective!
Have a lovely day,
Réka is a travel enthusiast and she has traveled all around Asia. She has been to Japan twice because Japan is her favourite Asian country, and has always been fascinated by Japanese culture, language and arts.
Recently she moved from Hungary to Utrecht, the Netherlands to study in Leiden University, Political Science master’s programme. She’s an active member of JACCU team, managing our Instagram account as a Social Media Editor and an author of Réka’s Tales, a series of articles sharing her experience in Japan.
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