Say what you like about Tokyo--the world’s greatest number of best restaurants, the most amazing modern urban architecture, a place pulsing with powerful energy, passions, and ambition. But at some point, after the noise dies down, I have to wonder: How do ordinary Japanese people live?
We know about Tokyo’s three star Michelin sushi bars and multi-course kaiseki restaurants, its all night dance clubs, stellar jazz, the imperial gardens, and Ginza with its lights that make Broadway seem dim.
Walking on the main streets of Ginza, eyeing the clothing, you can become aware of falling short. The clothing and haircuts make locals look like stars in a movie. We’re talking, on average, $7,600 per square foot. How do you dress for that?
No, the people who keep Japan going:--the backstage you might say, the set and lighting designers, the gaffers, the caterers, the people who never get the spotlight--they live outside the city center, and their sacrifice and commitment to the nation at large are what makes Tokyo possible.
I walked among them for nearly a week, and this is my eyewitness report.
I’d been invited by the prefectures of Chiba, Saitama, and Tokyo to spend time observing and documenting local attractions.
It all started late one Saturday afternoon after seventeen hours in the air on two flights from Boston to Detroit and from Detroit to Narita. It was my 11th trip to Japan in ten years.
I hustled out of the customs area at Narita, able to do so quickly as I always travel strictly with carry on, looking forward to a night out. The town has some of Japan’s best unagi (river eel) served in mom and pop joints clustered on a cobblestone walking street where the smell of wood fires and caramelized sugar fills the air. Killed on site before your very eyes, basted in a sweet and dark sauce, and then grilled over coals, this delicious dish goes down well with cold draft beer, all of it savored while sitting on tatami mats among dozens of satisfied, laughing Japanese. Followed by more drinks and live jazz--Japan has the best jazz scene in the world outside of New York City--and a late night stroll on Narita’s walking streets. A perfect way to begin.
That turned out to be Plan B.