june, no gloom

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View from side door of the Lions Mansion Apartments, Tokyo, Shinjuku-ku

March 31, 2018, Tokyo

After the long, long flight from LAX to Haneda International, Japan, and a train ride from the airport, Medy and I finally arrived in Tokyo. We got a bit lost trying to find the Air BNB apartment in Shinjuku ward, but after wandering the streets, knowing we were close, we finally found the address in Kabukicho, Shinjuku-ku. We were greatly relieved.

The apartment was a single room, none too big, with two beds, a tiny bathroom and a kitchen sink area with a small cabinet above. There was a closet stocked with room supplies which we were not to touch according to the rules sheet the owner left for us. The bed linens appeared clean, the floor was brown linoleum, the walls an unmemorable color, possibly with a pattern on them, but it’s fuzzy in my mind now.

We freshened up and went out to find dinner. Night had descended, neon dazzled the streets of rollicking Shinjuku seeded with night clubs, cafes, shops, and full of people seeking dinner and entertainment. Ramen restaurants are everywhere, from fancy dining to hole-in-the wall cafes. We popped into a shoebox-size restaurant and had large bowls of savory ramen brimming with noodles, enoki (tiny capped white mushrooms), dried seaweed, green onions, a slice of pork, and a boiled egg. Smoking in public is common (some places provide designated smoking areas and on the trains smoking is only allowed in the smoking car) but in cafes and restaurants, puffs of cigarette smoke wends its way all over so breathing was a little difficult, but the ramen was delicious.

The next day we found our way to Shinjuku Station and, using our Japan Rail passes, caught the Shinkansen bullet train to Kyoto, chasing the cherry blossoms. The blooming season runs north to south and Tokyo’s Sakura blooming was over, the blossoms limp and fading. But first, that morning, we went to Caffe Veloce for breakfast. The coffee was to die for! So delicious we lingered amid the golden wood contemporary decor and had a second cup. I ate most of a sweet bean curd-stuffed bun (a little too rich for me) and Medy’s bun turned out to be filled with ham and cheese. For a coffee cafe, Caffe Veloce was very quiet. People came in, quietly ordered what they wanted, carried the tray to a table, sat and ate, very little conversation, none really.

Japanese train stations are all over the city and are impressively clean, neat, and extremely busy. Hundreds of people flow through as smoothly as schools of fish, heading for the many platforms to catch fast trains that run all over the city and out to the suburban areas and other cities. There are uniformed staff, platform guards, and gate clerks, and automatic ticket machines for wherever you want to go in the metropolitan and suburban areas.

The train was SRO, but after about a half an hour as we left Tokyo behind and entered the countryside, it cleared enough for us to find seats and be comfortable for the rest of the trip. As in Caffe Veloce, the train was absolutely quiet except for station announcements in Japanese and English over the intercom, the sound of the rails, and an occasional yelping baby.

The train was meticulously clean, spotless windows, seats, siding, and floor. A uniformed young woman pushed a trolley down the aisle stocked with sweets, bags of crisps, sandwich packets, juices, tea, coffee, and water, for sale. The comfy seats had drop-down tray tables, and unlike public transportation in the US where no eating and drinking is allowed (and you know why), people can refresh themselves with food and drink on Japanese trains and not one bit of litter is to be found afterward. The Japanese do not litter. They take their trash with them when they leave the train and dispose of it in an appropriate place or take it home and dispose of it there. (Yep!) Public trashcans are rare, practically non-existent. I saw a sign posted in English on a platform wall, can’t recall the exact wording, but it stated that littering was rude, inconsiderate and morally irresponsible.

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More to come!

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