Sometimes a destination is purely functional. Going somewhere to write, for example, simply needs to have decent lighting and some semblance of calm. I prefer the presence of other people - a few, not too many; feeling the light bustle of life and living stirs up my creativity. And for an old-fashioned millennial such as myself who still uses a pen and paper, a dry and clean table would be ideal.
Now at day four in Tokyo, I’ve hardly had a chance to jot anything down. I’m saturated from all the doing, bloated with experiences. New memories threaten to overwrite other ones. For myself, time for writing needs to be carved out; for both processing experiences and having notes for later.
On the road, my makeshift office solution leverages the public spaces of our time: coffee shops. I am heading to Toranomon Koffee right now for an overdue word vomit into my journal. It looks spacious from my Googling and, being in a business district, will probably be pretty quiet on a Sunday. My hope is that I can tuck myself into a corner, spend a few hours writing, and disappear anonymously into my work.
But Miki Takamasa saw me coming at a distance with a familiar smile and laugh. He was one of the mad scientists that helped me out at Koffee Mameya yesterday, and it turns out he’s also a part owner of this place. No big deal (though behind that smile I suspect he is a big deal). It seems that the coffee scene in Tokyo is pretty tight.
Miki enthusiastically asks if I’m here for the espresso. Nah I reply. Could I just get a pourover so I can slowly sip it while I’m writing?
He looks at me like I’m daft. “You do realize Takayuki Ishitani is here brewing today, right?”
Keeping my mouth shut (I have no idea who Takayuki Ishitani is), Miki explains that he is the newly crowned 2019 Barista Champion of Japan. And he’s only here for today. And definitely a big deal.
Okay - so I guess I’ll go with today’s special then. Miki hasn’t steered me wrong yet.
I watch Takayuki work his magic. With a practiced ease, he pulls a double shot into two cups and serves me one as an espresso straight. Delicious. Just as I’m finishing my hot slurps he passes me the other with added steamed milk as a second course. And with that one-two punch, I’m smitten. But I still need to write, so I order a third.
All around me are bloggers paying homage - lone wolves working the camera angles on their special cups of coffee, and typing, typing, typing. Having flown in from China, Singapore, Dubai, and beyond, they do not speak to each other, lest the reverie be broken.
And then there’s me. Serendipitously sliding onto an open stool next to them, their solitary contemplations become the backdrop as I turn to my notebook. I am behind on my writing and tomorrow I leave Tokyo.
A lot happens in this city and one has to focus their attention or be lost to distraction. So when I stepped out of my hotel this morning and heard distant drums, I ignored them and continued on my way. Doubling back this afternoon though, they’re still audible and much louder.
The sound leads me to a raucous crowd, violently shaking a float of some sort to the rhythm of the beat and chanting with a serious commitment. Everyone is wearing traditional garb and moving in unison. Nobody seems to mind my presence, so I take up a position at the edge; once again a fly on the wall watching, watching, watching.
It turns out that I’ve stumbled into the Kanda Festival. The “float” being shaken through the streets is actually a portable shrine that is transporting the local guardian deity, blessing residents along the way.
And then the drums stop. The community bows together as a Shinto priest leads them through the ritual’s final moments. After a long weekend of carrying and shaking the heavy shrine on shoulders, the deity is settled in its resting place for the next two years.
We disperse. Them, towards home. And me, back to my hotel for one more night. Tomorrow, I step beyond the city’s limits.