Tokyo in the Morning – on A Hopeful Sign

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My latest piece is about sunrise – morning – in Tokyo and the beauty therein.  Here’s the text, but please do go to the website to see with the pictures and in context of the site.

Tokyo at Sunrise

Some people might think I’m crazy, but my favorite time to hit the streets to exercise is 5:30am.  I have always been a morning person, (ask my friends whom I would drive crazy when we were teens – I was 20 before I was willing to see the midnight screening of the “Rocky Horror Picture Show” due to my early morning habits) but here in Tokyo, the mornings take on a whole new beauty.

Tokyo, like a woman readying herself for a night out, changes its tenor as the sun goes down.  It goes from a mild-mannered city of black-suited, white-shirted businessmen with practiced business acumen, to a place of alcohol-driven, late-night revelry.  The change-over is particularly vivid as the sun comes up again, which in February, is right around the time I’m outside taking my morning constitutional run/walk.  Unlike New York City, the trains stop for five hours or so right around midnight, and because of that, there are many bars and restaurants are open until 5am, so at 5:30 am, so at that time, the businessmen who missed the last trains home to the suburbs are spilling out of the bars and into the streets to go home for a shower and a nap before heading back into the city to do it all over again.  While I don’t live in an area that is particularly famous for its night-life, I do live near an area like that, and it’s always interesting to see swaying men and heel-tottering women in rumpled clothing and half-closed eyes making for the subway stations.

Beyond that, however, in my residential area, the 5:30 hour is a time when the mama-sans and papa-sans are up, bustling about and getting things ready for the day.  Often, especially the morning after some sort of storm, I see earnest men and women out on stoops or even on patches of sidewalks with little brooms and dustpans, sweeping up the debris of the night to start fresh with the sunrise. Every person takes responsibility for their little patch of heaven in the city – for keeping it clean and tidy, and fit for the entry of the Emperor, just in case. I see a few kids, some as young as 9 or 10, coming out of apartment buildings headed to schools outside the city that specialize in certain areas of interest and therefore require long commutes. The children, whatever the age, have a common look of eternal weariness along with dogged determination, a mix common to Japanese faces.

Tokyo Tower Photo credit: Robert Scott Laddish

The Tokyo Tower, something that used to be the tallest structure in Japan until last May when the Sky Tree opened, is often in my view and I can see the last remnants of its overnight lights as the sun makes its steady ascent over the horizon.  The streetlights flicker and die slowly in my city, so that darkness never fully encompasses the scenery.  The quality of the dusk or the moment before the sun makes it searing entry on the landscape are always bathed in a quality of ease, of buoyant expectation, as if something new is bound to happen with the change of light.

I suppose these things could happen in any city, at any time.  But I’m not in any city at any time – I’m in Tokyo at sunrise and I enjoy all the gifts the bustling metropolis has to give me.  I get back to my house before 6:30am, which is when the true waking of the city starts; when I’m more certain that the people I see are beginning their day rather than ending it, and I too, shower and dress and get ready for the adventures ahead.  The freshness of the city is my reward for meeting the dawn as it arrives and it starts my day with the joy of gratitude.

Good Morning

It’s not that early in the morning – just 7:30 – but it’s early enough that I’m the only one awake.  I’ve been up for about an hour now and I spent most of it at my computer working on another piece about the Japan earthquake and its aftermath.  Where we are staying now, with friends in Maryland, they have a very sunny kitchen with a picture window.  The window faces their grassy backyard and the sun is touching the top of the kids’ swing-set.  Why am I telling you this?  Well, because it’s peaceful.  It’s morning and it’s peaceful and it’s my favorite time of day.  I feel like at thing at this time of day.  I feel like myself at this time of day.  It’s easy for me to spend the time to get ready for all of the challenges that the day will present.  When I don’t get this quiet time for myself, I often feel somewhat unprepared for the rest of the day.

But mostly, I know that I write best at this hour.  It’s been a little while – a few weeks, I’d say – since I’ve had the luxury of my morning quiet time.  I’m reveling in it right now.

Ooops, I hear a child.  Quiet time is over.  But that’s okay.  I’m ready.