On our first proper day in the city, we went to find a small slow-drip coffee house that had been recommended to us near to Shibuya station. We were given individual porcelain cups and saucers and watched as the barista carefully folded the filter paper to fit exactly, as he carefully ground the beans and then measured it out precisely.
He took such great care over each cup, it was like he derived a huge sense of pride and satisfaction from every cup of coffee he makes.
It was fascinating to watch, but as our visit went on we realised that this attention to detail was evident everywhere we looked. When the Isetan department store near Shinjuku station opens its doors at 10 in the morning, all the staff stand at their positions and bow to the same depth, with perfect timing, to every single customer who walks past. Not only is it a highly formal act, it felt hugely honouring to be shown such respect for our prospective custom.
The store had a special mother and baby lift with an assistant who announced that the lift was there to anybody and nobody from inside at every floor the door opened at.
After wandering around, we watched an assistant wrap a gift with enviable speed, but with such crisp and precise lines it was a spectacle to see.
The city had such an intense sense of precision. The styling of the women in one of the department stores we visited was immaculate, and almost disconcertingly doll-like.
Every tree we saw had been pruned to grow in a particular way, nothing was left purely to nature.
Even in the Tsukiji fish market, the way the fishmongers gutted the catch, a messy and uninviting task, was with deliberate and deft movements. We stood and watched three men use a set of five different blades, all of differing lengths, from dagger-sized to ones that looked like a sword, mesmerised as they cut up an entire yellowfin tuna into steaks, quartering its long body exactly, even slicing through the bone of its spine.
It really felt like every action of work people made was done with a mind to being excellent. Tokyo wasn’t a place of reckless passion or mad abandonment that you might find in a city with an amazing clubbing scene or a reputation for wine, women and song. It felt like the passion and drive was to be found channeled into making every act the most perfect and the most beautiful act ever seen. Almost like everything they did was done with a gentleness that made you feel it could only be motivated by the purity of love.