Tokyo Walk Home - The Sites and Sounds

I feel nostalgic in the fall. The majestic trees in Central Park stand taller as if proud to be seen in all their wondrous color. The scarlet, ginger, and golden colored leaves are beautiful but they fail to lift my spirits. I had a stressful day and on my walk home from work, a trip that usually takes me ten minutes, I reroute uptown to the Park's pond, to lose myself in the daily commute of others.

It gets dark earlier these days and I need to enjoy the last remnants of light. My mind wanders to other trips home, trips that occupied a large portion of my childhood and filled my senses – to a city teeming with people and energy that I called home for six years. I find a bench, take a seat, and close my eyes to take a trip back in time.

As the bus bumps along I gaze outside. The sky is dark, but the city is flooded with color. Green, turquoise, orange and pink taxis roll by. Tall modern buildings are mixed in with small traditional style Japanese houses. Huge billboards fill up any remaining space that is not already occupied by the many busy people.

The sights mesmerize me and all the commotion is stimulating. Tokyo has changed since I first arrived. While watching new buildings spring up like mushrooms and others disappear overnight can be unsettling, I am completely comfortable here. The bus turns and the scenery changes and as a result so does my mood.

I gather my book bag and jacket and step off the bus to begin my daily adventure home. Businessmen brush by me on their way down to the subway. I dodge the imminent danger of a moped whose driver is delivering sushi to a nearby office - ruthless in his determination of snaking through traffic and pedestrians alike to get to this destination. I hear a bell behind me and make way for a woman to ride by in her bike with her baby strapped to her back in a brightly colored cotton carrier.

Her overflowing bag of groceries sits precariously on the bike's basket. As I turn the corner, I see my old friend, he is busy cooking but he spots me and waves me over to say hello. Despite the differences in our culture, language, and age, we have still found a way to relate. His orange sweet potatoes are being roasted on hot charcoals and the delicious smell envelops all the hungry passersby, including myself. A couple of stops before I reach his side, he holds his megaphone and in his singsong voice announces his delicious offering: “Yaaaaaa Kiiiiiii Moooooo”

He gives me a small sample and I say goodbye and continue on my walk. I take little bites and savor the taste. The sweet warmness of the snack helps to protect me from the cold air that is being left behind by the quickly setting sun. Further down the road my eyes are drawn to the lit up sign “Sarashina”, my favorite noodle shop.

I peer into the restaurant and see a few diners standing at the counter, huge bowls filled to the top with thick white noodles placed in front of them by the busy cook. I purposely walk close to the shop in order to set off the sensor of the electric sliding door. As the sliding glass parts, my nose is treated to the comforting aroma of the hot broth, and my ears fill with the sound of slurping – a sure sign of enjoyment.

I walk away from the people and noise and enter the oasis of Arisugawa Park , a gentle stretch of wilderness in the middle of Tokyo . This shortcut gives me a chance to leave the city behind. An old woman sits on a bench with an open bag of sesame crackers on her lap and is surrounded by pigeons. I am not sure whether the birds are attracted to the food or to the hint of blue in the woman's freshly dyed and permed hair.

At the pond, old men are gathering their fishing gear and getting ready to go home. While they take their hobby very seriously, it is hard to imagine that they can catch anything edible in this small stagnant body of water. I smile to the regulars and in return receive the customary mini head bow, a slow tilt of the head, as a greeting.

As I make my way down the street, I am surrounded by some of my feline friends. These are a little different than the average American cat. They are missing a part of their anatomy. They have no tails. Their pleading faces look up at me as they let out small yelps for food. We've become friends over the years and I have made up names for each of them.

After I have greeted them appropriately, I'm ready to take my final steps home. In front of my apartment building I see Hara-san the building manager. She is busy finishing her daily chores, which today include raking up the Ginkgo nuts that have fallen from the tree that stands in front of the building. If these yellow nuts are not taken away in time, they will quickly rot and give off an odor similar to that of vomit, something I have been unfortunate enough to experience in the past.

At the front door, I punch in my code and the glass doors open. I am finally home after my daily hour and twenty minutes commute from school in the suburbs to our city apartment. A few floors up and I open the door. My tail endowed American cat greets me with a warm welcome.

Suddenly my daydream is interrupted by a gust of wind that sends some leaves flying by my face and I am sharply reminded of my surroundings. While not as engaging as the hustle and bustle of Tokyo , I will be in the warmth and welcome of my Chelsea apartment in just a few minutes. The memories that I made during those years in Japan , can be captured in hundreds of adventurous walks home from school. I may have to pass by the Japanese market and buy some groceries to make hot udon noodles for dinner tonight.

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