When people ask me what I would recommend if they come to Tokyo, I stumble over my answer.
Apart from the mandatory tourist attractions, I find myself at a loss of words when they question what I do, year after year, when I return to this city. This is because the answer that I have at the tip of my tongue seems so small, so unworthy of travel magazines and glorified Instagram travel posts, but so very significant to me; I walk.
Mornings are clear and crisp, depending on the weather. The Land of The Rising Sun lives up to its name by introducing sunny rays before 6 a.m.
Toast for breakfast, a glass of juice, if it’s a chilly day I grab a jacket on the way out.
Then, I walk.
From Todoroki station, I take the train to Shibuya, changing lines at Jyiugaoka, and stand at the infamous scramble crossing with a hundred other people heading in a hundred different directions. We wait as one for the light to turn green, we cross as one, and we separate as a hundred.
From Shibuya, I either find my way to the glitzy streets of Omote-sando, with glass-walled buildings and five-storey H&M stores line the streets, or I turn down a small back road into a quieter part of Aoyama-sanchome.
I walk without a clear direction, nor with a pre-planned route.
When the wind gets too strong and my nose and face turn numb from the cold, I nip into the nearest Excelsior Café or underground subway station. There, in a brightly lit corner, I sip my milky coffee (the only way they make it in Japan) and let the rapid-fire conversations of strangers wash over me in transient waves.
Some days I follow a train track and all of a sudden find myself in a back alley lined with bushes of hydrangeas in full bloom. At times, it’s an alley of vintage stores, selling anything from old Victorian erotic novels to hair-dryers.
Two days ago, I took the train to Nippori station, alighted, and walked through a scenic cemetery to get to SCAI The Bathhouse for an art exhibition by Toru Kamiya. From there, I headed down the main street to the Tokyo National Art Museum and spent the day wandering through a treasure trove of preserved historical bits and pieces.
Flipping through a guide catalogue to various art exhibitions being held all over Tokyo, I chanced upon the unmistakable name of Yoko Ono. One of her collections was on display at Shibuya Hikarie, and that was where I found myself at sunset, surrounded by her words framed in clean, white, wooden squares and arrayed on walls.
Yesterday, I sat in a field of clovers in Kinuta Park and made a crown of flowers. Today, I ate my bento in Ueno Park, facing an empty baseball field.
Walk, I want to tell everyone who announces their upcoming trip to Tokyo on whatever social media site there is. Put on a pair of comfortable shoes (my battered Stan Smiths have clocked in at least a 100,000 steps since I arrived a week ago), fill your thermos with hot tea in winter, cold juice in summer.
Bring nothing but a hat, a book, and a sketchpad. Leave nothing but your footprints.
Take the train to the end of the Oimachi line. Listen to the sounds of trains coming and going, to the sounds of your thoughts arriving and leaving. Sit in Shinjuku station and watch masses of people flow through like time.
And when the distant school bells toll their nostalgic melodies, when the cawing of crows signal the end of the day, get up from wherever you are, and in the direction you are heading towards – walk.
Photos and text by Jean Anne Heng. Take a walk with Jean Anne around Tokyo here. Send in photos and stories of your adventures to firstname.lastname@example.org for a chance to be featured.