Turning a circle in the alleyway of Golden Gai, Tokyo. 360º of sensory overload.
At 90º skewered chicken is dropped in oil, the sound reminiscent of a bumblebee firework in takeoff. Behind at 180º is a pachinko parlor chiming through a closing door and at 270º a wok flashes on the periphery. Dead ahead a neon skirted barbie is selling either beer or insurance and in this moment it feels as if the world is in fast forward. I glance at Kate and we share a wide-eyed grin. We love it. The smells from each tiny kitchen are enchanting. The lights and sounds collide above us. The food is cheap and delicious.
But we can’t keep pace. Amid the motion, we need stillness. After the rush, we demand rhythm. So in search of rest we leave the city and find our way on fast trains and slow to the other end of the spectrum: Ryokan
A Japanese version of a B&B, ryokans were originally intended to serve travelers along the island's remote stretches of road, but today they can be found even among the suits and skyscrapers. We opt for the more traditional approach and head to Gora Hanougi in the hills above rural Hakone. From the moment we enter the inn, every aspect of the stay is designed to ease our minds and spirits. We remove our shoes, receiving rose tea and sesame cake while our bags are toted away. We are shown to our room and slip into private hot springs overlooking the blue foothills of Minamiashiagra. Donning traditional Yukata robes, we read books and sip beer from short glasses. Few words are spoken.
Dinner sneaks up on us and we rendezvous with Megu, our personal hostess who escorts us to a private dining room where we enjoy a Kaiseki-style dinner of more than 20 unique dishes, each using seasonal and regional ingredients: Kobe beef in yakiniku sauce, local plumbs, thick cuts of sashimi and steaming tofu miso. The meal lasts for over two hours and we linger over last nibbles of fruit before finding our way back to our room. Futons and down comforters have been made up on the tatami floor and sleep comes easy. Tomorrow, a few more hours in the baths and another artful meal will ready us to face the rush of Japan once again. We look forward to it.