Exploring one of Tokyo’s old residential districts with someone who lives there is a great way to gain an insight into Japanese culture…
Exploring one of Tokyo’s old residential districts, or shitamachi, with someone who lives there is a great way to gain an insight into everyday Japanese culture and history. Guests get to see inside a typical home – mine, in fact! – and have a lesson in the traditional art of flower arranging (ikebana), as well as visiting the shrines, temples and small shops of the local area by bicycle.
It’s very gratifying when people tell me how much they’ve enjoyed their ikebana session and how much they’ve learned about the country’s culture in the process. I’m always fascinated by the way that when there’s more than one person their arrangements turn out differently, even if they use the same flowers. Travelling around the area by bicycle is another thing that appeals to guests; they often comment on how it makes them feel much more part of the place.
Sometimes something happens that makes you realise what a small world it can be. I remember taking a family to a neighbourhood café where tourists never go and as soon as we were inside the mother suddenly said, “What are you doing here?” to one of the men there. It turned out he used to work in her local sushi bar in the US! It made the big city seem that little bit more homely.