Film school was in the bag and DAMON was in the can. It was time for me to get out. See something. Do something. Get out of Southern California for a spell. Or a fortnight. And maybe some sushi. Luckily, I have these incredible relatives who teach in foreign countries. Amy and Steve Dornbach. Technically, they’re my 2nd cousins, but because we’re so close and because Steve’s sister is my godmother, I call them aunt and uncle. They’ve also got 2 high school-aged children, George and Lucy. Awesome people. I can’t say enough good things about them. Anyway, they taught in Seoul for a few years until a few years ago, then came to Tokyo to teach at “ASIJ – The American School in Japan”. But their time in Tokyo was coming to an end, so I decided that now was the best time to pull the trigger on visiting the city I’ve heard so much about. So for 2 weeks in early May, I visited Tokyo. And had my mind blown.
I could write a book about what I experienced there. From the amazing food, to the cleanliness and safety of the city, to the unbelievable social consciousness that all the Japanese seem to have, I was constantly pinching myself. Never in my life have I experienced a place quite like this. In a word, it was inspiring.
For 2 weeks, I wandered, explored and took in as much as I possibly could. I drew a lot, took thousands of pictures, ate amazing (and cheap!) food, got to stay with my relatives for free, met up with an old college friend (Junko) and met dozens of other really cool people. (Halima and fish market sushi folks to name a few) I also got the chance to visit the Ghibli museum, founded by my hero, Hayao Miyazaki.
Seeing the Ghibli museum felt like more of a pilgrimage of sorts. His films have had such an impact on my life and will forever guide the way I tell stories. So being there was pretty incredible, to say the least. The highlights from the museum were twofold: 1) short film & 2) museum presentation.
1) Studio Ghibli produced a fully rendered and expertly executed short film that they screened exclusively at the museum. I won’t give away too much out of respect for them, but I will say that it featured the Cat Bus from MY NEIGHBOR TOTORO and takes a turn that you don’t expect. Typical jaw-dropping, goosebump-raising Ghibli fashion.
2) The building alone was a work of art. But not how you would expect. It wasn’t lavish or pretentious in any way. The artistry came from the care and craftsmanship that went into the architecture and design of the space. It had the peace of a church and the warmth of a northwoods hotel lobby. But zany at the same time. And on top of that, every piece of material used was of the highest possible quality imaginable. But this is just very Japanese. They take great care in everything they do. From expertly crafted wooden stairs, to stained glass windows, to expensive light fixtures, to all the original artwork. This museum is a marvel.
And there were SO many experiences like this for me in Tokyo. Every single day had moments where I would just marvel at something. Not just the unbelievably peaceful shrines or crazy fashions or the fish market. Those were incredible, sure. But what really surprised me was the over-abundance of public toilets. Really! And finally! For me, visiting a city usually means having to either not drink much or spend half the day searching for the next place to pee. Not in Tokyo. There’s a place to pee on just about every block. And not in dank alleys like in Europe. In real restrooms, with self-cleaning toilets and surfaces so clean you could perform emergency surgery in there.
But rather than say too much more, I’ll share with you some of the pictures I took and sketches I drew. They very much capture what I saw. The contrast of new and old. The people. The vibe. It was an awesome trip. And much needed. I hope you can visit there too. And I hope to go back very soon as well.
Thanks for reading and all the best –
(more images inside – click “please comment” to view)