All About Japan

Tokyo: The Calm & the Chaos

| Mount Takao , Tokyo

Tokyo never seems to rest, and the neon and the endless, crowded hustle often leave first-time visitors feeling shell-shocked. But the sprawling metropolis has plenty of pockets of calm, places to rest and relax.

Mount Takao is one such place, standing at Tokyo’s edge, apart from but still of the city. A thick carpet of brilliant fallen leaves in hues of red, magenta and ochre frames Takao’s cable car ascent—the steepest in Japan at over 31 degrees. A tunnel looms and then you’re inside, tilting up and peering at the light at the end like a periscope to sky country.

From the summit, the city seems so close, yet the calming effect of this place is quite a contrast from the hectic pace down there. The sun glints off distant steel and glass, and in another direction Mount Fuji stands snow-capped and regal against a backdrop of blue.

Going back down to the city after exploring at Mount Takao, Omoide Yokocho (which roughly translates as “Memory Lane”) is another kind of respite, a place for camaraderie and sustenance in close quarters. Situated in the heart of Shinjuku, the narrow alley barely wider than a visitor’s outspread arms is crowded with tiny restaurants and bars, many with no more than half a dozen stools where customers can belly up to a slender counter.

Peering inside each joint, it’s hard to choose, as enticing smells and spirited conversations float into the lane. Cries from proprietors urge potential patrons to enter, their entreaties promising cold beer and mouthwatering delicacies. Nostalgic lanterns glow from shop fronts and smoke-tinged noren (curtains) frame the doorways.

Inside one shop, big shining brown bottles of beer line the counter. A word to the staff, and within minutes mugs of beer, plates of edamame and skewers of yakitori are crowding the small table. Yakitori is succulent bits of glazed and grilled chicken threaded on the bamboo alongside blistered shishito peppers and thick green onions. As the food arrives, the tiredness from the earlier hike begins to fade. Elbows jostle as everyone lifts their drinks to toast and congratulate each other on the day’s accomplishments. Kampai! (Cheers!)

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