As the train pulled into Shinjuku Station, I found myself thinking about coffee, and the act of cupping—of lining a table with a host of different coffees, so people might taste of each cup to compare, contrast, and enjoy.
Shinjuku, I thought, is like a coffee cupping for the city of Tokyo—where its many flavors could be tasted in the variety of places that filled its borders.
I passed through the labyrinth of Shinjuku Station, and thought back to my first time here, when directions—left, right, up, and down—felt like ever changing, untrustworthy concepts. Back then, simply catching the right train felt like success. It seemed silly to imagine that hundreds of thousands of people used the station in an orderly, organized fashion.
Outside, and on the surface, I walked Shinjuku-Dori. I looked up at the shops, the fashion brand outlets, and the department stores, and I peeked down side streets at collections of izakaya restaurants and cafes.
I thought about these side streets and alleyways, and the cultures that hid down them. I thought about Kabukicho, the red light district, and the way it sold conversation and companionship to deep enough wallets. I thought about Omoide Yokocho and Golden Gai, where restaurants and bars crammed together like families forced to share a single bed.
But then again, I thought, life happens here; in the cracks between the city, where communication runs most free.
It was odd to think that down low there were these rowdy, drunken spots of revelry, and yet high above the city, on the 52nd floor of the Park Hyatt, existed a place like the New York Bar—a dimly lit venue for sipping at expensive whiskey and listening to jazz, while looking out over the lights of the city below.
It was interesting to think that though they were very different kinds of experiences, both called the same place home.
I walked the quiet streets of a sleeping Golden Gai, and stopped by the Hanzono Shrine. I liked that Shinjuku held within it little pockets of history like this—brightly colored temples selling charms and fortunes, and offering a moment of reflection. It was a glimpse into traditional culture, co-existing with the office buildings and concrete structures that surrounded it.
It was a strange kind of harmony.
But there are pockets like these all over Shinjuku—small moments of culture and history like aged coffee beans from classic kissaten cafes. People I knew still visited the Suehiro-tei theater to watch rakugo comedy performances in an old building lit by classic paper lamps, and covered in wooden planks showcasing the names of performers.
I was thinking about this contrast as I walked to the Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden—the contrast of old and new, upper class and lower class, clean and dirty, artificial and natural.
I wandered aimlessly through Shinjuku Gyoen for a time, just happy to have the city feel somewhat far-off and distant. The greenery was refreshing—it felt like a place to stop, and to breathe. I sat at a bench I remembered from the movie “The Garden of Words” and I thought about what I’d seen.
That all of it existed in the one place seemed unbelievable, and yet, there it was.
If Shinjuku really was a coffee cupping for the city of Tokyo, I got the feeling it was a very long table, with more cups of coffee on it than I could count.
But that, too, was exactly what made it so intriguing to explore—the idea that somewhere out there, whether it was Shinjuku or somewhere else in Tokyo, existed the perfect flavor for each and every person who visited.
What it came down to, then, was how much you were willing to search for it.
Written by Hengtee Lim