countries

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Northeast Asia | Japan

Tokyo / Lingering Alone

the difference between seeing a place and being in a place

   And there we were. Somewhere, deep in it. Two microscopic men in mankind’s biggest megapolis (a word I just made up only to find out that it had been made up already). My friend had flown in with bags full of valuable knowledge about Japanese culture, and all I had brought was cheap curiosity. Japanese people and culture, even the food, had only ever made the faintest appearance in my life. And if I read up on places, I prefer to do so after going. Somehow, I like my explorations naive and unburdened by background information. There is a certain unbiased and unprejudiced freedom in that.

 

After I had fed off my friend's insights and Ramen tips for two days, he was knocked out by the flu. Just before he crawled under the sheets to hide out from the virus, he lent me a pair of long johns to save me from the same cold destiny. And so I was back to my uncharted steps of discovery. Neon-lit nights, frantic ant-crossings, and placid Japanese cherry stains on the concrete carpet didn't make for surprises and confirmed the few clichés I had picked up over the years. Only the replicas of the Statue of Liberty and the Eiffel Tower seemed oddly misplaced.

"I think I had expected all 35 million people to be present at every cross street at all times, 24/7/365. Alas, expectations, what had you done to this city?"

35 million lives coalesced in these streets. This was no longer a concrete jungle or a sea of lights; the anthill had mushroomed into something else entirely. The sheer dimensions of the city were well past impressive and bordered on incomprehensible. Yet, zoomed in with the magnifying glass of my explorations, the individual neighborhoods often shrunk to the size of idle countryside towns. Tranquility and order prevailed where one might have expected craziness, chaos, or some polite Japanese form of anarchy.

 

It was a bit of an expectational letdown. I think I had expected all 35 million people to be present at every intersection at all times, 24/7/365. And more and taller skyscrapers. Somehow, they were too spread out. Alas, expectations, what had you done to this city? One spot brought it all home though, satisfying my petty and demanding assumptions: TOCHO. The Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building became my favorite place in the city. All day long, smooth elevators shot people up the twin towers to the Southern and Northern observatories where views were free. There, all my own unwarranted promises were kept – city, city, city, all the way to the horizons with only one border: Mt. Fuji in the Southwest. I would just stare through the glass and breathe in all the lives and stories that unwound in that colossal Petri dish beneath, or at least in my mind.

"Everybody is so well-fed, every form of amazement is so saturated. Come, go, in, out, rush, rush."

I came back for more every day (for the two or three remaining days of my stay), preferably at a time that would allow for a daytime view, a sunset behind Mt. Fuji, and a night angle. I could stand there for hours, music in my ears, only changing the window occasionally.

Such views are like life-sized TV to me and so I linger and linger and linger. But I linger alone. People come and go, have a quick look, move on. Everybody is keen on seeing these picture-perfect places, but nobody seems interested in being there, in staying in these moments. Peek, cross off the list, hit the next aisle. Everybody is so well-fed, every form of amazement is so saturated. Come, go, in, out, rush, rush. Why not take it in a little longer, now that you’ve come here all the way sir? Yes, you, in the black coat. Why off so soon you guys with the plans? I sometimes have the hardest time letting go of these moments. I need to remind myself that I cannot stay there forever, while I linger a little longer.