I went to Japan last December. It was the perfect month to visit and my favorite time of year. In late December, you feel fall slowly fading, the leaves almost all gone, but a few strays that cling to the trees, the exact way my toddler clings to my legs when she gets shy.
I love the rush of cold air, the constant threat of first snowfall, the lights, the people in the city rushing around with bags of gifts for loved ones. It’s what I look forward to most during the heat of summer, the same way I look forward to the beach in the gray and rain of winter.
In Tokyo, most of the buildings are in muted beige and gray, the color comes in Shinto shrines with red-orange doors, splashes of neon signs, gardens tucked away with fiery fall colors and spotted koi.
It was a strange choice for a pre-Christmas vacation, but they do celebrate Christmas in Japan. They have Christmas cakes, an all-white whipped cake with strawberries on it and according to my sister who was living there at the time—strawberries in Japan taste better than the ones here.
Better strawberries. Can you even imagine?
And there were elaborate light shows, “illuminations” and lit trees all around the city.
You can’t see your way out of Tokyo, it feels infinite. It’s big and pulsing and electric, but at the same time, quiet. There are tucked-away gardens, shrines, and temples everywhere.
I took public transportation in Seattle daily for seven years and because of that, I appreciate Japan’s unspoken rules–drinking on trains, talking above a whisper, talking on your phone— all considered rude, punishable by glare.
Things that have happened on the Seattle bus:
- A rotisserie chicken rolling around and getting grease everywhere
- A person so out-of-his-mind, when his friend punched him hard in the face, he didn’t even realize it. One of the saddest things I’ve ever witnessed.
- A woman who (while I was pregnant) asked me about hepatitis vaccines, then coughed right in my face.
It’s tempting to compare where you live to where you travel. To see how safe Tokyo feels, how meticulous and efficient and magical it all seems. The genius of hot coffee from a vending machine and the comfort of train station ramen.
Home is easy to take for granted.