What is perfection? How do you achieve perfection? Is this goal a fool’s errand? After my time in Tokyo these are the questions I am left with. Before I came to Asia I read a book about Bushido. For me it was about just that, the pursuit of perfection. The quest to know life in every breath and to truly live life to its fullest. Now I’m not sure if that was the point or even the lesson I was supposed to learn but that’s what I got from it. Whether or not these goals are attainable is not the point it’s the pursuit of them that matters.
Throughout my time in Asia I saw little glimpses of this pursuit, especially when visiting a Buddhist temple, but nowhere was it more evident then in Tokyo. The simple act of making a beverage for a patron is something I thought I was well versed. When bartending in college if a guest ordered a whiskey & ginger, I thought I had a pretty good grasp on how to make and serve that straightforward cocktail: Put ice in glass, tip the bottle of chosen whiskey, count 1…2…3…4… and if you are feeling nice 5…6, fill the remainder with ginger ale, serve with a lime. Simple right? After seeing our bartender do this at the Hilton concierge lounge, I can unequivocally say no. He took this simple act of making my beverage and with no flare whatsoever made me stop and stare, mouth gaping, contemplating my life. I swear to you my drink tasted better because of the effort that was put in. It wasn’t just the extra steps he took of chilling the glass and the whiskey or how he shook the concoction before pouring it out. It was how he performed these steps, every one practiced, deliberate and fluid. This man took his job very seriously and it made me reflect. Have I ever done the same in my life… for anything?
I am embarrassed to say that for Katherine and I, Tokyo was an afterthought, a place to stop because it was on the way home. “Why not” I said, “we’ll be there anyway.” It was the one place on our journey we did minimal research. The extent of my study was the aforementioned book on Bushido and an episode of Anthony Bourdains’ “Parts Unknown, Tokyo”. Side note, that’s how we ended up at the Robot Restaurant.
Through TripAdviser.com and our knowledgeable concierge staff we ended up booking an experience that will not soon be forgotten, a traditional tea ceremony at Happo-En. To this day I get chills every time I think about our experience in that beautiful garden. We arrived by subway (which we had finally figured out) a little early. Met at the entrance, we were asked for our reservation and invited to explore the beautiful grounds as we waited.
When it was time a traditionally dressed women greeted us and escorted us through the property to a historic bamboo teahouse where the ceremony would take place. With simple gestures the hostess invited us in and instructed us to have a seat at the table. In almost complete silence, except for the sound of the fire crackling in the stone hearth, the ceremony began. I was again awestruck and left speechless by the absolute reverence that each movement was given during the ceremony. The relatively simple process of making tea was reconstructed into an intricate dance between the hostess, teacups and the utensils, with every motion done for a specific purpose. We drank our tea making sure, as instructed, to turn the bowl so as to not drink from the front (bad luck I assume). After the ceremony we exchanged pleasantries took some pictures and departed.
On our way out of the garden we passed a collection of bonsai trees, some over 500 years old.
The care and devotion that it takes to keep something alive for that long astounds me. We lingered here for a while taking pictures and enjoying the peace and calm that had taken hold of us. It was a welcome respite from the concrete jungle awaiting. I still think of that day in times of stress. It reminds me to keep calm, slow down and respect the moment.
During our last night in Tokyo I sat in the lounge enjoying one last “perfect” whiskey & ginger, looked to my right and who was sitting there but our tailor “Tony” of Simpson Sin in Hong Kong from 3 weeks earlier. The sheer probability of numbers that we should meet in Tokyo boggles my mind. But there he was asking if we enjoyed our trip. As I sat there mouth gaping for the 3rd time that day, all I could think was, this world is not so big after all.
Katherine and I disembarked our plane from the long trip home picked up our luggage and as we started out to the cold night we looked at each other, she asked “Are you ready to go home?” I said “Nope” she replied “Me neither.” This adventure opened our eyes to so many new things: cultures, people, food, philosophies and religions, making us realize that it’s more worthwhile to collect experiences instead of collecting things. I have to admit it was very hard to adjust back to “normal” life. I don’t think we will ever stop traveling or exploring the world. As we get older and eventually start a family we may have to limit the duration or distance of those trips but that’s ok. For now I think the only question we need to ask ourselves is “Where to next?”