Traveling Japan

I wanted to start my pictured recount of Japan with a short story, a story about how I was parted from my wallet in a bustling city of over 13 million inhabitants. If you’ve never been to Tokyo imagine a city that resembles an ever-moving, oozing anthill of people streaming through subway tubes, tight ticket turnstiles, streets, constricted alleys and huge blocks of people waiting to cross streets like large armies lined up for battle. It seemed this way at any time of the day, the same flow of people bound for their destination — well except for rush hour where that flow probably increased twofold. Even with the sheer number of people traversing the city each day there’s no bumping, pushing or yelling. It’s ordered, calm, and polite.

We arrived at our subway stop, Suidobashi Station, late in the night. We stepped off the subway car and into the flow of people up and out to the top floor, out the turnstiles and behold! Even at the ungodly hour we were returning home the station was just as packed, but I spotted a humble man in a rickety food cart serving hot soup to those returning home too late to enjoy dinner at the table. I saw this man and immediately had the impulse to take his photo as he worked his craft. I wanted to seize the rare opportunity to take his photo without anyone else in the frame, and quickly yanked out my phone to capture the moment.

Food vendor at Suidobashi Station

As I rushed to take out my phone before the throng of people behind me moved forward I inadvertently dropped my wallet, my tiny little leather wallet stuffed with cash and credit cards, my ID, my medical card, hotel room key, you know all the good stuff1. So there it lie on the foot-trampled concrete floor while the flood rushed over. Content with digitally capturing the moment we strolled back to our hotel and as I went to open our door I heard in my head: oh, shit. I told my wife and two friends I must have lost my wallet and we immediately began recounting our steps, as I imagine everyone does when they lose something. “I took it out at dinner to pay but I needed my wallet to get on the subway. I took out my phone when riding on the subway but I needed my wallet to exit the subway station. I took out my phone at the subway exit to take a photo… Right then.” At that point I gave it up, I said to myself it’s gone and I started thinking about canceling cards, getting a new medical card, a new driver’s license (ughh!) and so on. The cash didn’t even matter. My wife quickly suggested we run down there and see if it was still lying out there on the floor, it was dark and maybe no one saw it. I agreed so my friend and I started back at rapid pace for the station. On the walk over I truly resigned to the fact that there’s NO way a wallet with cash and credit cards would sit there unmolested, especially with so many people walking through. We arrived at the food cart and I started frantically looking around — it’s possible no one saw it, maybe someone kicked it under the cart, maybe it was near the benches or maybe it was… somewhere.

Nope.

My friend then suggested we go and check with the subway official in the office, maybe someone found it and returned it. I told him “dude there is no way it’s going to be there, I mean NO way. It’s totally gone.” After a few minutes we walked over there and in a conversation of broken English and my extremely limited single Japanese words I told the official what happened. The old man didn’t even say anything, he just looked at me. Then he asked: “Name? Where stay?” I said, “What? What hotel am I staying at? Hotel Niwa.” The old man revealed a sly little grin, a grin where in any other country I’d think he was up to something nefarious. He scurried off back to his tall grey cabinet, pulled out a large ring of keys and unlocked the bottom drawer. He slid it open and pulled out something, then I saw it, my little black leather wallet in someone else’s hands. He returned to me and pushed a green paper in front of me littered with indecipherable symbols and he asked me to sign it. I’ll sign whatever you want, I thought. When I finished writing my name I looked up and his face was all smile, ear-to-ear. He handed me my wallet as I said “arigato” what must have been a hundred times in secession, I even recall doing a few small bows.

I was completely shocked at what just happened over the course of the last thirty or so minutes.

I like to think I have a lot of faith in people, but when I’m traveling my guard is up to level ten. I trust no one, I watch my stuff like a hawk, everything is locked, nothing is shown. It’s a product of growing up and traveling all over the world seeing all sorts of stuff, having stuff stolen, seeing stuff stolen. The fact that I was reunited with my wallet in this incredibly busy city where so many people are in a rush to get home to their families insanely late at night literally blows my mind. There was no reward for this person, they could have just ignored it. They could have kicked it to the side. They could have taken the cash and then returned the wallet. Or whatever, but they didn’t. They didn’t touch a thing and they returned it to the official in hopes it would find its way back to its abandoner. I still can’t believe it.

I know losing your wallet isn’t the worst thing that could happen but this is just one story of many where the people of Japan amazed me, their kindness and attention is unparalleled. I wish I could thank that person who returned the wallet, but really I know they are already happy they did something for someone else. I truly believe everyone in Japan acts like they themselves would want to be treated. Something I think is missing from many places on this Earth. Even the subway official was genuinely happy I was reunited with my wallet.


 

Traveling Japan, something I’ve wanted to do since I can remember, has given me a short but meaningful glimpse into a country and culture I’ve been enchanted with since childhood. My personality resonates with the ordered, passionate people there, their work ethic, desire for quality food and appreciation for attention to detail — their entire ethos, really. I hope the photos below (which only barely scratch the surface) give you a sense of the place and I hope you head there one day, it’s an incredible experience.

TokyoTokyo TempleTori at Meiji ShrinePrayersBarrelsTakeashite Street and Tokyo Skytree TowerNishiki Fish MarketMochi and Flugen CoffeeFish dissection AkihabaraIchiran Ramen

While we were in Tokyo I had the pleasure of meeting up with a baker I chat with on InstagramFumi. I met with her one morning over coffee and she was so nice to give me a loaf of her sourdough bread, sourdough bagels and a sack of local flour from Hokkaido. I wasn’t expecting this at all and was so grateful for the gifts, we ate every bit of them over the next few days!Sourdough from Fumi


Kamakura

Temples at KamakuraKamakura Temple


Mount Kōya

Mount Koya TempleWe did a short day-trip out to Mount Kōya, a Buddhist headquarters with many temples, hiking paths and sights to see. We spent the good part of a day hiking around there exploring each temple and watching many of the monks perform their daily duties. A very quiet and humbling place.


Osaka

Busy streets of OsakaIn contrast with Mount Kōya is Osaka, a bustling business city that is a little more gritty (still, there is not one spec of trash anywhere to be found) and dense feeling than Tokyo. The people there are a little more hurried it seemed, there’s work to do after all. We had some truly fantastic food in Osaka and walking Dōtonbori (see below) is a fun experience, even if a bit touristy. Osaka Waterway

Kyoto

Fushimi Inari-taishaKyoto has so many sights to see it’s pretty much impossible to see them all in a week. We selected a few and even did the several hour hike to the top of Fushimi Inari-taisha (seen above and below). If you have a spare afternoon I highly recommend the hike. Head there really early and if it’s lightly raining it’s even better.Fushimi Inari-taishaA stop in at % Arabica, a stylish little coffee shop in Arashiyama on the Katsura river. Their beautiful Slayer espresso machine and kind staff served us some much needed iced coffee in the afternoon heat.Cafe Arabica Slayer Espresso MachineCafe ArabicaKyoto StreetsMy wife found a small teahouse, Chocolat Organic Tea House, for us to visit that was a journey from our hotel all of its own. The place was small, cozy and you could tell a local favorite. The owner is a Japanese chef and his wife, a Canadian woman that was so kind it’s hard to convey it through words. Her personality was calm, genuine and caring. We all talked for several hours over their delicious matcha and chocolate. She even left her place of business in the middle of the day to give us a ride to the subway station so we could get home without burden.Matcha TeahouseIncense Kiyomizu-dera Prayers and DragonMe helping Japanese studentsAbove is a photo of me helping some local high school students complete one of their exams. The student in the middle had to ask me a series of questions in spoken English, write my answers down and then at the end perform an “exchange of Yen”.Kiyomizu-dera


The people of Japan seem so deeply rooted in tradition yet move at a breakneck pace towards everything new. There’s an adherence to old techniques, a respect for hard work and the pursuit of mastery, yet a desire for new gadgets and ever-evolving visions of the future. I could have easily spent an entire month traveling throughout the country, it’s a beautiful place with wonderful people.

Can’t wait to go back.


  1. Of course my most sensitive documents are safe and secure elsewhere, as well as backup cash and a backup credit card

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  • Kristina Osborn

    Hi Maurizio –

    Love your instagram! The story of your wallet is remarkable for Americans, but in Japan, it’s pretty standard. The Japanese have a very strong culture of returning lost objects. When a child finds their first “found” yen coin or bill on the street, it’s a rite of passage to go to the police station to hand it over and fill out a “lost and found” form (probably what you signed to get your wallet back). If any found object or money isn’t claimed after 6 months, the finder gets to keep it. Pretty amazing!

    • Ethan Wolf

      Six months, wow, truly incredible. Can’t wait till the day I can step foot in Japan, a remarkable place.

    • Wow that’s amazing! I think instilling these small things when people are young help them make the same, right decisions later in life. You’re right too, it is an incredibly remarkable thing to have happened to me but I could see it just being standard practice out there! Thanks for the comments 🙂

  • Janet Garvin

    Maurizio, your posts are so wonderful, and your photos are superb. Kudos to you. Janet

    • Janet — thanks so much, I really appreciate that!

  • candis

    your photographs of Japan are gems. thank you.

  • Lukas

    Great post, amazing photos. I think it’s to visit Japan.

    Thanks!

    • Thanks, I appreciate that! Yes, you definitely should try to make it out there, it’s such a beautiful place. So much to see though, you need to focus on one spot and then plan a return trip 🙂

      • Lukas

        I know it’s more of a question to someone who lives there but what about situation of bread in Japan? I think they don’t it on regular basis, do they?

        • Yea it’s hard for me to say since I only had such a short time. There are some fantastic bakeries out there, though, so I’m sure it has in some way integrated into their diet. I’m not sure Japanese people eat quite as much as other cultures as it’s not a huge part of their history but perhaps more and more it’s finding its way in!

  • I love your photos, and the story of losing and finding your wallet!

    Visiting Japan one day is a big item on my bucket list too 🙂

    • Thanks, Jarkko! I really, really loved it out there. I wish I could have posted more pictures here to convey how beautiful it is out there but this was already getting long enough 🙂

  • lisamcohen

    What an amazing trip! How incredible that you were reunited with your wallet too. Thank the universe for the wonderful and honest person that happened upon it lying on the floor.

    Your photography is breathtaking and I felt like I was there with you. Thank you for sharing this.

    • Lisa, thank you I appreciate that! Even though this wasn’t 100% baking related I wanted to share what a wonderful trip I had 🙂 I think the culture in Japan is so fascinating, they have a kindness to them that has to be seen to be believed. I’d go back there in a heartbeat!

  • Emanuel Kand

    Hey Maurizio!

    Good to have you back from your lovely trip… Honestly, i think lot’s of us bread fanatics missed you and your posts… 😉
    As i read your little story about the wallet loss i remembered i had some similar story that happened to me almost 8 years ago just after my wife and i got married. We were for 10 days in vienna.. One night we went out to a pub with some of my cousins who live there (i used to live in vienna myself from the age of 1 month till the age of 14)… After we came back home from the pub i realisied i can’t find my wallet! Luckily i don’t trust myself or anyone else i also only had about 100€ and of course all important cards which is annoying to remake.. I didn’t go back to the place.. We came back to israel were we live… But my inner instinct didn’t let the wallet free by some reason… A month later i got a call from someone which started: “hello emanuel, i am calling from the israeli embassy in vienna…” I was like : “please tell me you got my wallet?!”… Wanna guess? The wallet had everything in it (except the cash which I didn’t bother too to have lost)… I told them one of my cousins will pick it up that same day. In my case, i already redid all of my documents… But hey, the wallet i had was from a wallet brand called Emanuel. A brand which i purchase till today… P.s. Where is the pizza post you promissed me?! :)))

    • Ha ha! Well I’m really glad to be back, even if I could have easily stayed there another 2 weeks or more 🙂 I miss baking! I’m back at it.

      Wow what an incredible story! That’s quite a bit more long distance than mine, really surprised to hear you got your wallet back after going to another country. I’ve been to Vienna in the past and I have to say the people there are also extremely kind and respectful. It’s funny you should say that about the actual wallet because that’s one of the first things I thought of as well — the cards and cash can be replaced but my leather wallet has been with me for a long, long time!

      About the sourdough pizza post… I’m still working on it! I know it’s taking a while but I’ve really been practicing different styles until I find the one I really enjoy. It’s getting there!

      Thanks for the message 🙂

  • mitsuko sato

    Kombanwa Maurizio!
    I loved reading this post. Tokyo an amazing city, in a beautiful country- one of the only big cities where one could lose ones wallet or have ones 3yo son wonder through the hotel at 4am and have them both returned safe and sound. True story. How my 3yo figured out how to

    • Kombanwa! Thanks for the comments, I really appreciate that! It’s true, it’s probably the only city I’ve traveled to where I truly felt at ease the entire time. I wouldn’t worry about my son running around either.

      My Best Sourdough recipe is definitely a challenging one, but like you said the results are always awesome tasting. Be sure to adjust the hydration to suit your flour, though, it can get out of control pretty quickly! Takes practice 🙂

      You’re welcome, I’m glad my site has helped! Funny you should mention those waffles, they are on my agenda for tomorrow!

      Happy baking 🙂

  • Jennifer Burch

    Hello Maurizio,
    I have never commented on your blog before, but was moved to tears by the wallet story. What an epiphanic moment and wonderful overlaying to your journey in that fascinating country. Your description of the Japanese character is perfect and insightful and I love the terms you used together of passionate, but ordered….so apt.
    I feel gifted this morning by your travel account of a country I will probably never visit, (but one never knows). Through your excellent and sensitive photography, I have had the opportunity to experience Japan vicariously. Thank you!

    • Jennifer — thank you, I really appreciate your kind words! It means a lot to me that my writing and pictures conveyed so much of that beautiful country, even if they are just barely scratching the surface. I had high expectations before going out there; I’ve been completely fascinated with the history, culture and landscape since I can remember. I’m really glad to say my expectations were exceeded in every way possible.

      I hope to make it bake out there one day and I hope the same for you! Thanks again 🙂