Tokyo: a place, 12 hours away from Italy, where tradition and future walk hand in hand. A contradiction that is difficult to understand until you experience it yourself.
A contradiction that can also be found in small things, like finding yourself in the centre of town buying a technological object probably unknown in the West, but the shop only accepts cash and does not take credit cards, or like when you walk among a thousand buildings that challenge each other in height and around the corner there is a temple that has nothing to envy, in tranquillity and beauty compared to those in the catalogue, creating a balance that in its “imbalance”, strangely enough, works.
I will be in Japan for three months, in an attempt to capture as many nuances as possible, both linguistic and cultural, in the hope of understanding something more not only about this nation and its destiny, but also about my future.
I have been preparing this trip for a long time, read my suggestions: Japan, the 10 things to know before leaving
Living in Tokyo in less than 20 square meters
Let’s start with one of the topics that I am most interested in: the house.
I live in a small flat for rent in Tokyo, not too far from the centre but not too close either. When I say small, I don’t mean “a small” Italian style: the flat is 16 square meters and includes bathroom, kitchen, balcony, bed and a desk. Sharing stories with other people who live here, I realise that I am quite lucky: accommodation of just 8 square metres is very common!
This is considered “normal”, even recommended for two people.
At first it seemed unthinkable to me, a house just as big as a room, and of medium size, what’s more. But I must admit that getting used to it was easier than expected. The most uncomfortable thing is cooking, but being an Italian a bit atypical, cooking little and very basic things, I feel almost comfortable in it. There is an air conditioner that regulates the temperature inside, and now that it’s winter when you turn it off it risks getting really cold! It is very useful in summer, because with the very high level of humidity you can reach, having a cool place often means salvation.
The “composed” city chaos
What is the city like? A mess. But one of those tidy ones, where to understand something you have to put yourself in a corner away from the perennial crowd of people that invades its streets, until you realize the hidden rule, and everything is revealed. And then the Japanese, even if they speak very little English, are very willing to meet you.
Walking during the day is a wonder, there are so many details everywhere that it leaves you speechless. Everything is so carefully arranged that it creates an overwhelming, almost hypnotic atmosphere.
But it’s at night, when the millions of neon lights light up the city during the day, that the mixed sensation between “what crazy coolness, it’s the future” and “dizziness” strikes you…
But it is at night, when the millions of neon lights light up the city during the day, that that mixed sensation between a “but what crazy coolness, it’s the future” and “dizziness” strikes you, leaving an indelible mark (in my case very positive). To enjoy this very special feeling, the areas of Shibuya and Shinjuku are my absolute favourites.
This “surreal” city does not betray me even when I need to experience the opposite feeling of peace and quiet. I can wander endlessly around the endless back roads that wind beyond the main streets and discover a Tokyo hidden. In reality, although it is one of the largest megalopolises in the world, it manages in its chaos to be truly silent.
Sometimes I find myself in one of these tiny streets in the middle of many houses, in absolute calm. Other times I just stroll through the traditional neighbourhood of Asakusa or in one of the many parks (Yoyogi and Ueno are among my favourites) to experience the calmer and more characteristic side of Japan.
It is true, Tokyo, having been rebuilt many times because of the war, has a “very modern” side, but it is its traditional side, carried on by the Japanese themselves, that leaves me most of the time speechless. Its citizens are the best witnesses of this past immersed in the future.