It feels like a faraway dream these days, to reflect on the adventure I was able to have overseas in Japan, back in January of 2020.
Aside from all of the delicious food, the bright lights and sounds of the lively, breathing Japanese metropolitan city that is Tokyo, Japan, today I would like to reflect on one particular memory.
The story of how I ended up having the motivation to travel overseas and seek out Japan started with a Youtube video. One that was to ultimately lead me to a particular bar, in downtown Shibuya, unbeknownst to me at the time.
The original concept of ‘The Third Place’ came from Ray Oldenburg’s book ‘The Great Good Place’. As Henry Oliver explains,
We all need somewhere to go. Somewhere that’s not work and somewhere that’s not home. Somewhere we can meet people — people we know and, sometimes, people we don’t. We all need a place that’s open and non-judgemental, that’s accessible and accommodating, that’s casual and lively and fun. Somewhere where we can consume, but isn’t just about consumption. Somewhere we can meet, somewhere we can talk, somewhere we can just be.
We all need a third place.
The video completely opened my eyes to what a bar, a public place, could look like, could feel like, could come to represent. I felt this sense of resonance with the idea of a ‘third place’, for no explicit reason that stood out to me at the time.
A part of me was saying ‘why can’t places like this be everywhere?!’ and another part of me was in awe, of the skill of Bridge’s owner in creating such an atmosphere through his passion for quality.
I was mesmerised. I had to go see this place myself.
I was travelling with my brother and sister during this particular overseas adventure, and I remember vividly of that first night we tried to hunt down Bridge.
The place was located in the heart of Shibuya city, and the night was getting late. It was about a 35 minute train ride back to the hostel where we stayed, and there was a strict curfew on the last train to leave from Shibuya train station.
The Youtube video was the only justification I had to make my case to my travelling companions. It was a tough gig trying to verbally explain all of what I felt from watching the video, and simply said, ‘Let’s go check out this interesting bar I had found!’.
To get into Bridge, which overlooks one of Tokyo’s iconic landmarks, the Shibuya Crossing, there is an elevator that sits on the ground floor of a nondescript high rise building as the primary access point.
We found that elevator easily enough, and there was a reassuring logo of Bridge just on the side of the elevator to show that we were heading in the right direction.
The elevator doors eventually opened up to let us in, to take us up to Level 10, except the ‘10’ button had not lit up when the button was pressed.
‘Hmm, that’s odd. Let’s try Level 9 and maybe we can walk up some stairs or something.’, I said aloud.
The floor started to rise, and us with it, as we started to climb the stories. Finally, the doors opened up, to a view of a poorly lit corridor with lots of white cigarette smoke billowing out from around the corner of the elevator. We unanimously decided not to step out into any of that as, clearly, we had arrived in the wrong place.
Defeated, the ‘G’ button was pressed and back down to the streets we went.
Somehow, I managed to convince the three of us (including myself) to return back to the bottom of that elevator the following night — for a second attempt at finding the elusive Bridge. And this time (thankfully), the Level 10 button lit up when demanded, and we were on our way up.
If I had to describe the experience of being in the place, I would choose the following:
We ended up ordering some drinks and sitting at one of the high tables, right beside the panoramic windows that oversee Shinjuku crossing. This was the surreal element, the feeling of floating above the city, of idly watching the trains and people and cars go by and of losing track of time.
Three tall bar stools for three people. Along with the drinks, there was a free-flowing supply of bar snacks to keep the fingers entertained. The music was vibrant and present, but not overbearing. It was still possible, and not straining, to share a conversation with the people you were with. This was the comfortable element.
Bridge had all sorts of customers as patrons, men in business suits standing by the bar chatting to one another, others on the dance floor closer to where the speakers and DJ were mounted, and groups just like us, minding their own business, and enjoying the view. This was the lively, but toned down element. Heck, I’m pretty sure it was also a weekday when we visited Bridge, and there was all of this going on! It was beautiful.
Inevitably, much time had passed and it was time for us to leave the place in order to make the last train back to the hostel.
I don’t remember leaving in regret or sadness because having physically been in the place, after experiencing that initial magic from the Youtube video, I was walking away with a gift. At the back recesses of my mind, there was a new spark that had now been lit.
The two experiences together congealed into something that became more than just about the individual parts of watching an inspiring video and being in a bar. It led to the formation of interesting questions and new ideas in my own mind.
What if places like Bridge could exist back in Australia?
Why hasn’t anyone made such a thing?
Why aren’t Third Places everywhere?
A few months after, when I was back at home in regional Queensland, Australia, COVID started surging and the world at large started locking down. Toilet paper started disappearing off the supermarket shelves, small businesses and shopfronts closed their doors, the daily news spearheaded for the bottoms of despair.
If new places were to emerge from all of the chaos, why can’t they all be Third Places?