There’s this tiny tempura restaurant in the bowels of Tokyo Station.
To get there, you have to take a train into the station, search, through the throbbing mass of people, for the main exit, find a staircase off to your right, which takes you down, down, down, to another level, which is called Granville, and is not under Tokyo Station, as far as I can tell, but under the city itself.
When you’re there, you’re in an underground city. Hallways filled with stores and restaurants snake every which way and suddenly you realize how there are so many people in Tokyo: it’s because they live underground, like mole people.
Turn, after turn, after turn, and somehow, you find the Daimaru, which is good, because it’s the only way to know you’re almost there. You cut through the department store, past counters with cakes and Tokyo bananas and deli salads and then, there’s one more hallway, that looks like it leads to the bathrooms, and suddenly the people disappear and there are a handful of restaurants as you near the end and you match the Japanese characters on your phone to the characters on the sign and you duck under the curtains and there you are, an hour and half after you started your search, with no real confidence that you’ll ever find your hotel again.
The restaurant is tiny, only fifteen or so people can fit inside, and you sit down and you eat tempura and you watch the cooks behind the counter whisk the batter and dip the tempura in the sizzling oil and joke to one another and suddenly, you realize you are not just in another world, you are part of it.
I imagined us, sitting in the underground tempura restaurant, like a scene in a movie.
There we are, chopsticks in hand.
Then, the camera pans out the door, then down the hallway, then up the stairs, then up above Tokyo Station.
Again, a pan out and you see the whole city. Another pan, and you see the country of Japan, another pan, all of Southeast Asia, another pan, the world as a whole.
And as we panned out, all that is left of our little moment in Japan is a pinprick of light.
And thousands of miles away, in the middle of the United States, there is another pinprick of light. The world that we know.
And, it is just that. A pinprick.
When we’re at home, when we’re hanging out with friends and going to work and walking the dog and paying rent and having dinner with our parents, our world seems all encompassing.
The Denver Metro area is our world, and while we know that the fjords of Iceland and the jungles of Brazil and the bustling streets of Paris are out there, we cannot comprehend that all over the world, there are other worlds that are just as significant and just as encompassing as ours. That our world really is just a prick on the map.
I will never forget the man so carefully dipping, swirling, dipping, swirling, udon noodles into vats of steamy water on a cold night in Tokyo. I will never forget the old woman in the guesthouse deep in the mountains outside of Osaka who cooked us a feast and scolded Topher for soy-saucing his rice.
In the back of my mind, I know that there are lives being lived, there are complex worlds being played out on the other side of the globe.
And that forever changed me. I will forever be a part of that little pinprick of light in Tokyo.
I was too young, too distracted, to put this feeling into words when I was eighteen and in Italy, but looking back, I will always feel a part of a pinprick of light in Florence, Italy, in a beach town in Costa Rica.
In an O’Reilly parking lot in Kalispell, Montana, on a patio overlooking the water in Annapolis, Maryland, in a barbecue restaurant in Atlanta, Georgia, in a blackberry filled alley in Eugene, Oregon, in a park on a hill in San Francisco, California, in a hotel in Twin Falls, Idaho, at a gas station in Fort Macleoud, Alberta, in a hostel in Tofino, British Columbia, at a farmer’s market in Maui, Hawaii, in a bakery in Kanab, Utah, in a Fred Meyers parking lot in Astoria, Oregon…
These places, they are not just pins we stick in a map.
Been there, done that.
When we stick the map, the light pours out and our illusion is shattered.
We are not all important. What is happening here, is no more important, heartbreaking, earth shaking than what is happening in any other pinprick of light we have seen before or will see in the future.
That, is why we travel.
To remind us that our world is small, and the worlds out there are immeasurable.
We travel for perspective.