Revisiting Japan

We got back from a two-week trip to Japan last week and I wanted to jot down some observations for the record. It’s been four years since we left Tokyo for Bangkok (and Germany, intermittently, due to COVID). Now we’ve lived in Sydney since late 2021. All this back and forth meant that going back to Japan felt like a trip “home”.

We were lucky and could stay in the same place that we lived in from 2018-19 and that our daughter came home to three days after she was born. It felt like entering a time warp when we opened the door of “our” narrow Musashikoyama house. It’s not the one pictured above of course, that’s a tatami and other miscellanea shop in Mitaka.

After a few days in Tokyo and we took a rail trip to Hokkaido, followed by an excursion to the art island Naoshima which we had always wanted to visit. We finished our trip with another four days in Tokyo. The Hill of the Buddha outside of Sapporo and the various museums on Naoshima made it seem like a Tadao Ando pilgrimage. I like his work, but find that for a critical realist his buildings feel strangely out of touch. But that might be another post.

Tokyo’s famous ephemerality makes reconnecting to old places hard sometimes. I certainly felt that way with the Musashikoyama station area (a new mega development now sits right next to it), Shibuya (with its out-of-control developments) and several other new megastructures littering the CBD. Meanwhile, buildings I had grown fond of have been razed.

And yet most of the city appeared like it did when we lived there pre-pandemic, primarily thanks to the friends, former colleagues as well as supervisors and mentors we met. It all felt so natural. The humid heat, city smells and sounds also did. (We were lucky to visit when we did: The heatwave began on the day of our departure.)

Now as parents of a five-year old, our experience was different. But it was also wonderful to see Tokyo and the country through the eyes of a small child. She caught and collected dinosaurs in Harajuku, went to see a fish/aquarium/art exhibition, had playdates with friends’ kids and walked, walked, walked (10,000+ steps per day in Tokyo? Easy!). Upon coming back to Australia, she told everyone proudly about her shinkansen trips.

Tokyo is the city I know best thanks in large parts to my PhD on its recent economic history. I have written several papers since leaving but it is getting harder to reconnect mentally each time, no wonder given the physical distance. Nonetheless, I still feel intellectually wedded to all sorts of urban issues; and emotionally tied thanks to the relationships we have forged. Both the intellectual and personal connection will always remain.

Would we go back? Not for now given that our time in Sydney is nowhere near over. But after the trip it became clear that Tokyo will always remain a possible destination in our quest to find a home.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *