I looked out the window, and it was concrete and glass into the horizon. Like something out of a sci-fi dystopia, a city that shouldn’t be yet was, teeming with life and light. My eyes sought for green, something organic, and failed. There were rivers down there, somewhere, cutting large canyons through the dense urban sprawl, but they were invisible and made known only by the gaps they formed in the otherwise seamless grid of highrises.
It was my first time above street level since I’d arrived in the great city nearly half a decade gone. I couldn’t tell you why I’d never ventured higher. Perhaps it was the oppressive weight of the whole experience that had kept me grounded. Held down by the invisible hand of strangerhood. I’d known that feeling most of my life, having never felt quite at ease in any of my previous surroundings. To have come to the most alien place on the planet was only a small step sideways.
I turned my head up and looked into the sky. It was perfectly overcast, a sheer curtain of diffuse grey light that banished shadows and induced melancholy. It was a little disappointing to be greeted with the same color as the poured stone faces I’d stared into for all those years below, and the openness of it was almost overwhelming. I felt a sense of vertigo, a dizzying spin begin to take hold like when lying in bed after too much drink, and I forced myself to look away.
The receptionist’s heels clicked on the hard flooring, announcing her approach. I tightened my grip on the handle of my cheap briefcase.
“Mister Hasegawa will see you now,” she said in a crisp, accentless English. She turned away and led, and I followed.
There’s something very special about a Tokyo street at night
something that isn’t shared by other streets in other cities
The way the light hits the asphalt and bounces so clean, because
it is clean. Clean enough to eat from.
And I remember nights in the dying heat of late summer
when the light hung purple and low in the sky,
that melange of the electricity below and the fading sun.
A night on a Tokyo street is one that’s full of promise
and foreign writing
and therefore mystery
I remember what it was like to be anonymous, and I miss it in the way that lovers miss each other.
Anonymity in Tokyo was a bipolar experience. On the one side there was very little chance of anyone knowing who I was, yet on the other my gleaming white skin attracted nearly every pair of eyes wherever I went, outside of the foreign enclaves. In the ten years of taking the trains and running up and down hundreds of side-streets, stairwells, and escalators not once did I hear someone call my name, tap me on the shoulder with a “hey, Jack”, or later remark that they’d seen me going somewhere in a hurry and hadn’t bothered to stop me on my way.
I was also bereft of my own ego, crippled in positive ways. I learned the numbing pain of non-competition, for how could I ever even dream of competing there? The things I worked for I got, certainly, but so much more was walled off, out of sight and out of reach to all but the native inhabitants. My skin was wrong, my voice was wrong, my culture and behaviour all wrong, and I was fine with that. You had to be, to survive. To keep your faculties intact you had to adopt the position you were forced into from all sides: that of the foreigner. The gaijin, or gaikokujin if you’re fancy.
I’d spent the prior 23 years of my life pushing myself to the outskirts of the society I’d been born into and yet there in Tokyo I’d found myself forcibly placed there by the simple virtue of being born an outsider. I revelled in it, I played the part to the hilt, and now all I have is the memory, like the fading and blurry after-image of a crowd that’s been obliterated by a flashbulb.
Such is the way with old glory.