It’s easy to get lost in Tokyo, but that’s the idea. This was a city designed to confuse invaders. Before Westerners arrived, there were twice as many T-junctions and dead ends in Tokyo as there were thoroughfares. After its near-total destruction during World War II, the city was rebuilt on makeshift pathways through the rubble, which further added to its obliqueness.
Illustration: Simon LetchCredit:
What was once a way of protecting the city from outsiders is now an essential part of Tokyo’s appeal. Its reputation is that of a hyper-modern metropolis, and it’s true that this is probably the only city where you are not surprised to be checked into your hotel room by a robot. But spend a few days in Tokyo and it’s the intimate scale of the place which becomes apparent. The narrow alleys, curved roads and lack of an address system inevitably spark a sense of discovery in even the most itinerary-bound traveller.
It was during one such gloriously unproductive block of time on a recent visit that I stumbled on magic. The Akasaka area, where I was staying, is an even tighter Gordian knot than the rest of the city. There, no street is straight when it can bend like a bicep. Profoundly unclear on how to get back to my hotel, I saw a restaurant so beautiful it made me stop in my tracks. Not because it was flashy, but quite the opposite: its humble lines and simple design soothed my spirit. Set back a little from the road, it was in a wooden machiya, or traditional townhouse, with a lantern-lined rock garden out front in which each pebble looked hand-picked.
A booking was made for that night; I congratulated myself on my discernment in picking a place off the tourist radar. Come dinner, the six seats at the cherry-wood counter were filled with Australians, most of whom were in town for the Rugby World Cup. It turned out Maggie Beer had made a stop there when filming her Japan series, and the chef had trained in Sydney.
It’s a small world, as they say – apologies in advance for getting that ditty in your head – but it was about to get smaller, because the couple next to me were cousins of a close friend’s husband. (We established this fact before finishing the exquisite first course of mackerel and radish.)
I know what you’re thinking: it’s not that miraculous a connection. But it certainly felt that way at the time, as we talked with increasing animation about my friend’s new baby, the celebration of the family matriarch’s 90th birthday, and holiday highlights. I found myself oddly energised by this coincidence over the ensuing days. It was incredible to me that I’d been able to discuss all those things over dinner merely because I had chosen a road at random in the labyrinth that is Tokyo, and then picked a restaurant on it for dinner.
Everyone has their own stories about running into people they know in the most unlikely places. I suppose a lovely restaurant in a trendy area of Tokyo isn’t the weirdest place to meet people two degrees removed from my social circle. But it felt comforting to grasp, if only for a moment, a few truths so fundamental they verge on truisms: that the world really is much smaller than we think; that there are invisible links between us all, though they are often only given the chance to emerge after a glass or two of sake; and that anywhere you go, you will inevitably hear an Australian accent.
To read more from Good Weekend magazine, visit our page at The Sydney Morning Herald, The Age and Brisbane Times.
Source: Read Full Article