Winter is over in Tokyo. Although there’s still a hint of crispness in the air the seasons have now shifted. I leave my home in a shirt and jacket, the accoutrements of winter, gloves, scarf, not to mention thermal under layers, are now surplus to requirements. I pace the short distance to my favourite local cafe in sneakers rather than boots, the cheerful screams of school children mark my path as they play in the same shorts and t-shirts they will wear for sport everyday from now until the cool winds of autumn come around again.
I find a seat in the cafe, the familiar semi-reclined chairs, low-lighting and wood panelled interior immediately make me feel at home. There are 13 other patrons, some seated alone, some in pairs, and a table of four. As usual I am the only non-Japanese person, something I’ve grown accustomed to, almost every time I eat out in this city.
My favourite sandwich set is sold out and I can’t help but stare at the lady across from me who seems to be barely paying attention to her serving. She is the only person in the cafe with a laptop computer. Although it is open in front of her she seems more captivated by her two smartphones. She keeps checking one while frantically typing into the other. The sad, half-eaten sandwiches are clearly low on her set of priorities.
Soon my lunch arrives, a bowl of granola with fresh yoghurt, a plate of ratatouille with crunchy sourdough bread, and a french press pot of strong coffee. The french press is perhaps my least favourite way of making and serving coffee, but I was keen to try the blend of the day, a limited edition light roast of beans from Costa Rica, and it was only being served this way. The coffee is delicate and in a nod to the coming summer smells vaguely reminiscent of white peaches.
I’ve brought my Kindle with me and as I make my way through lunch I struggle to focus my mind on the last few pages of Amy Cuddy’s excellent book Presence. As is so often the case now, reading, especially when it comes to books and long essays, feels like something I have to will myself to do, pushing past the resistance till the words start to flow from my sight into my thoughts. The temptation is always there to do something easier – check email, look at Twitter, browse Instagram – something that rewards a smaller effort, like candy snacks for the mind.
Towards the end of her book Cuddy talks about the way some experiences of anxiety can be reframed as feelings of excitement. There’s research which suggests we might be able to do better in anxiety-inducing situations, like performing music, public speaking, or sitting exams, if we interpret the signals our body sends us as signs of excitement, rather than anxiety. I’m immediately transported back to my own experiences of performing on a variety of stages and speaking on a range of platforms, both of which I’ve often done in front of hundreds and occasionally thousands of people. Today, I would try to approach such moments with a studied sense of calm, but I used to face them with a bristling ripple of excitement. Maybe I have forgotten something over the years?
I finish the book and scan the cafe while enjoying the last sips coffee. Some of the same patrons are still here, some have left, others have arrived. The lady across from me seems to still be resolutely ignoring her sandwich. I love this cafe because of the sense of calm. But I also love the excitement both the patrons and staff bring to the coffee experience. I watch a table receive their coffee order and there is genuine passion on show, an eagerness to taste and compare experiences. The patrons are not loud, but they don’t receive their coffee with cold resignation either, there is a sparkle to their faces, a pleasure in savouring this moment. There is love.
The sunlit walk home is quiet enough that I can hear every step I take. The school children are back in their classes and the backstreets are empty in a way that still surprises me for a city that is home to so many millions. There is activity all around but for a moment it is hidden. I feel alone and at peace.