Zen and the Art of the Layover
I took the advice of my new friends from Australia and Costa Rica who have a hotel in Bariloche, Argentina and decided not to race into Tokyo on my layover and run around crazily for a few hours. It was only 2 years ago that I was last in Tokyo, so I wasn’t concerned that I might be “missing out”. I read some great online stories by CNN and Forbes and set out for Narita Town. Only 10 minutes by train from the airport, but hundreds of miles away in terms of its relaxed atmosphere.
I began to walk down the Main Street toward the temple. Most everyone I saw was Japanese and their pace was slow and deliberate. I shifted gears from my normal walking pace in 5th gear to 2nd gear. Normally I’m up tight about having to throttle back, here it felt like the only natural thing to do. I perused the shops and contemplated where to have lunch. Finally I came upon the Naritasan Temple Complex. The smell of incense was in the air and despite the cold temps, the temple was packed with worshippers paying their respects. I kept catching myself going to my default setting of 5th gear before relaxing and remembering that I had no where I had to be for hours. I didn’t have to pick up Micah, take Sally out for a walk, get a workout in, do the laundry or take out the trash; I was free. That was my Zen moment, I didn’t find it in meditation, but in the rhythm and the pace of the people. In contrast to the peace and calm I was experiencing, I realized that my daily life had few moments like these. Don’t get me wrong, I love my life and looking after Micah, Sally, and loved ones, but today was a reminder to take a moment and connect with myself and the outside world.
I roamed the temple complex enjoying one of life’s greatest luxuries, time. It was nice to play the role of observer and just watch people, hear the noise of their steps across the pebble walkways, and smell the incense. I finally left to do some shopping and find something to eat. Once I found some cool presents, food was next on my list. I wish that all restaurants in Japan were just like Matsuhisa in Aspen and I’m sure if I was with Andrew Wilson he would have researched and found the next best thing, but trying to decide whose plastic food looked the best was not only beyond me but left me feeling like I was watching a horror flick. I have to hand it to the Japanese, they are not afraid on the culinary side! I had a front row seat to watch a chef pull live eels out of a barrel, silt them open and slice them up to grill and eat.
I was a total chicken in the end and opted for a ramen house. Ramen Bayashi was a warm and delicious “Western Friendly” restaurant. Half the patrons were pilots from airlines around the world and never once did they make fun of you for ordering non “black diamond” dishes. They called out “Gyoza” at least 20 times just while I was there and acted as if they were thrilled to make these Gaigeens the 300th Gyoza of the day. I enjoyed my “Gyoza”, edamame, and miso and was thrilled to have had a great tasting and non life threatening lunch, pretty sure no blood was spilled in my food preperation.
I loved the decor which featured airline stickers from around the world from the last 20 or so years. I had passed The Barge Inn down the street which had been a Virgin Airlines haunt back in the day. Since the Japanese had a hard time saying “Virgin” they came up with “The Barge Inn” which got them closer. Alas it was time to leave the calm of Narita Town for the bustle of Narita airport and catch my flight back to Japan.