Travel: Takanawa/Tokyo

About to leave Japan for the final segment of a 10-day Can-Asian business trip. Passport please.

If jet lag has you watching the sunrise from a 20th-floor window in Shinagawa, don’t despair. Get up and get on your feet.

Up a long slope from the hotel-and-train-station bustle of Shinagawa is the quieter Takanawa section. On a Saturday morning especially, this tightly packed urban residential neighborhood is peaceful and, in spots, shady. (By 7 a.m., it was already past 80F, with both temperature and humidity climbing.)


Which side streets to try? My general rule is, if all is safe (and it usually is in Japan), take any stairs you see. Got to be something interesting beyond. Turn corners. Use your cell phone compass. Remember shop signs at key corners should you need to regain your bearings. Be prepared; you will surprise a few locals. They do not expect to see gai jin in their narrow side streets. Smile, bow, and quietly wish them good morning. (Ohaiyo gozaimasu; “Ohio go-ZYE-mahss”)

Not much is open at this hour. But you will need energy for your walk. So when you see this French bakery by the police station, go in. Excellent chocolate croissant, ¥218 (about $2.25). The Japanese would not bother to learn to make croissants unless they could be excellent at it. They would never embarrass themselves or you by offering anything less. They have succeeded in croissants, I assure you.

On this walk, my wanderings led me quite suddenly into a burial ground smack in the middle of a terraced hillside between a group of apartment buildings. This should not have surprised me; a nation of 125 million in a total area about the size of California becomes expert at efficient use of space.

I know that customs concerning the dead are very serious matters in Asian cultures. But I do not know the specific rules. So I treaded very lightly and made no sound until I had left the area.

One of the most difficult things you will do in Japan is to find a public trash can. I have walked for as much as a mile just to discard a candy wrapper. Littering is absolutely out of the question. Might as well slap your mother. You just don’t do it, even in big cities.

Years ago I read that ancient Japanese noblemen, when guests at dinner, would sooner hide fishbones in their kimono sleeves than offend their hosts by leaving refuse on the plate. Your garbage is your problem. Try not to make so much. Still, a coffee purchased from one of Japan’s ubiquitous vending machines leaves a can.

Thank God. Recycling day in Takanawa. Otherwise, that can was going through U.S. Customs.

Copyright 2013 Adam Barr

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5 thoughts on “Travel: Takanawa/Tokyo

  1. Nicole s says:

    Would the safety you suggest about taking stairs anywhere apply to women. I wish I were brave enough to travel as you do, adventurous. However, I have paranoia when it comes to my personal safety, especially when in a foreign country

    • adambarr1106 says:

      It’s an important question. The walks I suggest, I contemplate would be in daylight. And as travel destinations go, Japan is extraordinarily safe. But of course, that’s not the case everywhere in the world. Caution is still the best course, and sadly, women must often be more on their guard than men.

      But even with that in mind, there’s no reason solo women travelers should have to forego the fun of exploration. A little research of a neighborhood beforehand, and the usual attention to the instinct that tells any of us when something feels iffy, can help.

      All that said, my travel style is perhaps a little more adventurous than most. That’s a risk.

  2. They call him the wanderer …

  3. SusanO says:

    “treaded”?! Did “trod” offend you in some way? 🙂

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