Suddenly you are awake after a night spent with endless worry and concern. As
you head for the shower you realize those last seconds spent in bed were your
last for a few weeks. With every move the familiar is slowly being traded for
After taking a shower and satisfying other bodily requirements you double check your bags to make sure you have everything. Passport, camera, clothes, laptop, travelers checks; yes, you are ready to go.
A few moments spent staring at the doorway and your parents arrive with their usual tone of concern and happiness, the kind that is only found in places far away from the disturbing realities of large cities. This early in the morning facts like these seem to appear from nowhere. Your lack of sleep has effected your thoughts somewhat.
Their words seem to drip off you. They say some things, you respond. Like a zombie you load your luggage into the bed of their truck and find your seat. Soon, you find yourself sharing breakfast with them at Denney’s. Your mind is already at the airport, navigating security, finding the gate. More words are exchanged, time seems to slow, you are beginning to wonder if you will ever make it to the airport. But then time flies by and you find yourself at the gate, waiting for departure into the unknown.
Alone again. You call this state home, isolation. You feel your blood rush at the though of what a massive scale journey you are about to embark on. The prospect of complete independence from everything you’ve ever known makes your blood rush. A faint smile emerges on your face. You casually gaze out a large window facing the runway. You watch the airplanes taking off and landing. It all seems so important, there are people inside those craft, some of them coming to Dallas for the first time in their lives. Something you consider with such mundane familiarity they consider with exciting mysteriousness. You imagine someone staring out an airplane window right back at you, they are away from home, their realities changed the moment the wheels hit the ground.
You move your gaze to an escalator. It seems out of place until you realize it is for arrivals from another country. They must send them to a special place and check their papers to make sure they won’t damage America in some way. You wonder if Japan has a similar system.
Lost in your thoughts time passes, you begin to think of Japan, the person you will be living with. Suddenly, these thoughts turn into action. You detach yourself from your chair, make your way to a small airport store and buy some postcards for her.
More time passes and eventually it is time to board the plane. As you enter the metal tube you realize the massiveness of it. Wide isles, plenty of room, unlike the smaller aircraft you are familiar with. You find your seat and attach yourself to it. This is your home for the next twelve hours. Too much time to think, shifting restlessly in the seat, sleeping. More thoughts, fears. There was never any darkness those twelve hours. The longest day you have ever experienced.
After an eternity you find yourself on an airplane about to land in Narita, Japan.
The familiar jolt of landing and engine rumble as reverse thrust slows the
plane, your plane has landed. People burst forth from their seats and file
silently out of the aircraft. You realize something is different as you walk
down steps onto pavement. An unfamiliar scent enters your nose. It is
comforting like incense in contrast to the metallic recycled air of the
For a moment you take in your surroundings. Everything has a reddish tinge to it, the sun is about to set. Just beyond the runway you see trees, they look magical as if they are not real. You can’t decide if this is due to the reddish glow of the sunset or if they would look the same under any light.
Your attention shifts to the bus that has just arrived, people file in, soon the bus fills to capacity. You attempt to fit in, but it is impossible, you exit the bus in defeat. Suddenly, another bus arrives and opens its doors, in elation you enter and find a seat.
You find yourself surrounded by Japanese people. Something is said over the intercom, but it is in Japanese. You look around for some clue as to what was said, no one seems to be doing anything special so you decide it wasn’t important. You suddenly come to the realization that you are separated from the world around you; a child again, unable to understand the voices of those around you or perhaps it is a dream with pictures but no understandable sound.
The bus pulls up to a rustic looking set of doors. You follow those in front of you through an endless set of escalators, hallways and statuesque guards in uniforms that look almost too professional.
Everything seems like a prison, you are trapped in the airport, waiting in line at the passport counter for what seems like hours. You begin to wonder if the world even exists beyond this room as you approach the counter.
Without even looking up the young girl flips to the last page of your passport and stamps it with something and you are whisked down an escalator into the baggage claims area of the airport. You find your baggage sitting on the floor, guarded by three young Japanese women in uniform.
Something seems wrong, the way these bags are here, anyone could just come up and take any bag. You produce your baggage claim ticket and pretend like you don’t see your bag, surely these guards want proof that you are not stealing it. They search fruitlessly for your bag until you grab it. They smile and bow as you wonder off.
Not sure where to go next you wonder around for a while, the “clack-clack” of your bag’s wheels across the tiled floor. You watch other people to see where they go, soon you enter a line and realize it is for customs. They want to make sure you don’t contaminate their country.
You find yourself standing in front of a 5 foot tall person who couldn’t be older than 20. You begin to wonder if they speak English when they ask, “What is in this bag?”. You say clothes. They open it and begin rummaging around. With a sigh they ask you to close the bag and send you on your way.
You don’t really feel like a person. You feel as if you are in some type of dream. You struggle to remember where you came from to no avail. You can only continue moving forward, in the direction of the hotel you reserved a few days ago. You produce a list you created to help you get to it. Next on the list is “get yen”.
You step up to a currency exchange counter and place the travelers checks into a small green tray. Soon there are strange coins and paper in your wallet. You feel secure now, you at least have money. Money is the universal language.
You find an escalator down to the trains and make your way to the counter. You simply say, “Shinagawa” to the vendor and produce a 10,000 yen note. Change is returned. You hand your ticket to the gate guard who passes it through the ticket machine, the gates open and he nods to you as you pass through.
Looking at the ticket you attempt to understand where your train is. A train arrives and you wonder onto it. You are encased in a dull blue florescent light, a couple speaks with neutral tones in their native tongue. They are probably talking about mundane things like how their day was or what they will eat for dinner, but the fact that you cannot understand them gives it an exotic quality.
After a few moments you recall seeing pictures of the train that goes to Shinagawa , it was red not grey. In slight embarrassment you grab your luggage and walk back out onto the platform in search of this elusive red train. You notice a lady working in a small kiosk staring at you, perhaps she noticed you enter the train and then exit. She must think your lost. For a second you entertain the thought of walking up and asking for directions, but you decide against it; the prospect that she might not understand English terrifies you.
You produce your ticket and begin searching for anything that might indicate where your train is. Eventually, you match the symbols to a marker on the floor and decide that this is where the train must come. After a few minutes of waiting a large red train arrives. This must be it. The doors open, you find your seat and relax.
The sun has set. Outside, the occasional neon sign or vending machine lights up the darkness. Signs you can’t read, everything is so different. The inside of the train is silent except for occasional voices over the speakers. There is a map that indicates where you are and has your station in English, you feel secure, that you are on the right path.
In the silent rocking of the train your eyes begin to close, suddenly, a businessman sits next to you. It seems odd, there are so many other seats, why this one? Why would a computer place you and this man so close to each other with so much room elsewhere. You produce your ticket and place it on your leg, maybe you read it wrong. The man looks at the ticket and then sinks back into his seat. With a slight feeling of apprehension you sink into your seat as well.
A man in a pink uniform emerges and bows to everyone from the center of the train. His movements seem over exaggerated, as if he were a dancer on a stage. He smiles and tips his hat with great precision and agility, he seems to have genuine pride in whatever his job is.
He begins checking tickets. Beads of sweat roll down your arms in fear, you have no idea how the legal system works here. You and the businessman produce your tickets and hand them to the man, he punches holes in them and leaves. You casually gaze over at the businessman’s ticket, it seems he was scheduled for the next train, your seat assignments are the same. Either the ticket checker didn’t read the tickets close enough, or he read it and didn’t care. Either the businessman didn’t read his ticket close enough, or he read it and didn’t care. What an odd system.
You pass a few stations. Bright fluorescent lights and countless people, the
stations look more rustic than you expected. They must be very old, in Dallas
the only train stations you saw were modern looking. This must be the primary
form of travel here.
In the darkness you see a railcar, you can see peoples’ bodies pressed up against the glass. It is not just full, you imagine there is not any room to move. This looks like something out of a horror movie. Perhaps some sick minded murderer jammed all these people into this small car and sent it down an unfinished railway. This must be the primary form of travel indeed.
Soon, the map indicates you are about to arrive at Shinagawa. Remembering how the train works in Dallas you emerge from your seat and mumble “sumimasen” to the business man which you remember to mean “excuse me”. He looks down and moves his legs out of the way as if they were hit with a hammer. You smile as you recall the people in Dallas trains moving quite sluggishly at the words “excuse me”. People here seem to be more considerate of others, perhaps to the point of self-destruction.
You grab your luggage and prepare to de-board. You remember this is your favorite part of trains. In Dallas you had it down to a science: doors open, you bolt down 3 steps and move sharply to the left or right so others may pass. Trains don’t like to wait at stations for very long.
The doors suddenly open and you bolt out, almost running into someone. You are instantly surrounded by people and become disoriented. You think of plowing your way through the crowd but think better of it and follow the person in front of you. They move at a fast pace, you almost have to run to keep up.
Soon you find yourself in a very large space, the main hallway of the station. A giant highway for people, but people seem to be running in every direction. You begin walking in what you believe to be the direction of your hotel. You see a sign with the hotel logo and an arrow, now you know you are in the right direction.
Many people in business suits run by, you have to make quick evasive movements in order to avoid them. Its almost 8PM, you wonder why people would still have work clothing on and then why they are running. Perhaps they all just want to get home or maybe getting exercise. Either way, their speed seems out of place. You continue on toward your hotel.
After a series of escalators you can see the dark sky again. There seems to be less people out here. You have left the station. You come to a brightly lit street corner, there is a strange white glow of a store, it appears empty but is brighter than any store you have ever seen. Out of speakers loud jazz music emerges. It seems to envelop your existence like calm elevator music, the soundtrack to any movie which involves people returning home after a hard day of work. Outside the store are sparse groups of young people sitting on a rail, staring vacantly at their surroundings. It seems out of place in the midst of all the men in suits and the fact that this is a weeknight.
A large crowd of people gather at the crosswalk, waiting for the light to turn green. After a few moments the light turns green accompanied by a strange rhythmic ping-pong sound. The street is huge, six lanes at least…so many people.
Across the street you enter into a strange patio lit only by dim blue fluorescent lights and then enter into a strange mall looking area with palm trees and white Christmas lights. It seems like it belongs in some strange shopping center on the beach of a tropical island. You wish things were like this back in Dallas, you could spend an eternity mindlessly wondering around instead of stuck in a car. Life here seems designed for those who are traveling on foot.
Soon you enter your church like hotel and find yourself at the counter. You wordlessly pass your reservation papers to the receptionist. He responds in English, asking for your passport, your credit card. After a few moments he hands you a key. Attached to the key is a six inch blue cylindrical keychain, its size seems ludicrous, it resembles some strange sexual device.
You wonder into a nearby elevator and are again treated to relaxing jazz music. Hearing this in a public space gives it a strange quality, it seems to say “its ok, you can relax out here too”. Back in America relaxing is seldom done in public, rather it is reserved for private quarters. Japan seems to be ok with relaxation in public areas. You feel the muscles in your shoulders relax.
The elevator reaches your floor and you exit. Immediately to the right are a set of vending machines: beer, snacks, drinks. You find your room to be adjacent to these vending machines. It seems odd to have such convenience. It doesn’t even require human interaction.
Your room is small but comfortable, almost like a quiet dorm room. You enter the cubicle bathroom which seems like a room within a room and push various buttons in an attempt to turn the lights on. You find the switch under the thermostat.
After an hour discovering the secrets of the toilet and shower you collapse in a heap on the small, hard bed and drift away into the soundest sleep you have ever known.
You awake to the sound of cars honking and just enough light to see the outline
of your room. For a split second you panic, you bolt out of bed, you don’t know
where you are and then you remember.
Your stomach is full of nervous hunger. You immediately begin to think of how you will satisfy this urge. These thoughts bother you more than anything ever has before. At home you disliked leaving the house, but you could leave anytime you really needed anything, you had fear but retained the ability to get what you need. Here you lack this fundamental ability. You cannot successfully communicate your needs to those around you.
For a moment you entertain the thought of holing up in your hotel room. You could stay here forever, or just until you die. Maybe death isn’t so bad. Your stomach rumbles, fuck death, pain is worse.
More random thoughts emerge. Something is trying to keep you in this room. You begin blocking the thoughts with humor. The thoughts appear, but you just chuckle to yourself and keep moving. You tie your shoes, put your contacts in all while chuckling. You find that you can continue action even while your brain fights against it.
You keep moving, right out the door. Your door closes behind you. Your unprotected now, suppressing your thoughts you find yourself in a world of action.
You walk up to the elevator and push the down arrow. As you watch the numbers count down to your floor you hope that the elevator is empty. You hear something, it is very sharp but only barely distinct from the silence of the hallway, like the buzzing of a small insect. It gets louder and louder. For a second you forget about the elevator in your search for this strange sound. Then the doors open and familiar soft jazz enters your ears.
The dull yellow elevator is empty. For a few seconds you relax again, almost as if no one else exists. This elevator is your personal space.
The doors open and your eyes blur in the bright white sunlight. There are many people moving about, most seem to be dressed in business suits. Everyone seems to have some important purpose, you have none, you feel out of place.
You slowly walk up to a map and find a restaurant that matches your meal ticket. You walk down the now familiar entrance of the hotel and a series of unfamiliar hallways. You are lost again, you try to remember the map, but can’t. You continue walking and somehow manage to run across the restaurant.
There are three young women near a desk in the restaurant. You slowly walk in holding your meal ticket in front of you. You hope that someone will see you and know what you are there for. You feel like you are trapped in the dark, you don’t know what is in front of you so you simply hold out your hands and hope you will touch something familiar.
The three young women are talking to each other, they don’t seem to have seen you yet. You keep moving forward, slowing almost to a stop. You are not sure if you should stop or keep moving. Suddenly, a young woman’s eyes dart over to you, in turn all three women now look at you. They bow and yell “Ohayo gozaimass”, you remember this to mean good morning and nod to them. Then they say a bunch of things you don’t understand and take your meal ticket. For a second you freeze, you are not sure what they want you to do.
The three women look away for a second and then one moves closer to you and says in broken English, “Please help yourself”. You nod again and move to get some food from the buffet islands. You are happy that you understand where you are now, but many conversations around you are still a mystery.
You sit down with your food: sausage, bacon and eggs. The food has almost no flavor, it could easily be wood or perhaps dirt yet you continue eating, hunger has no need for flavor.
Sitting in your chair you become anxious, there are so many people around you. It makes you uncomfortable. You pull your chair up and put your face as close to the plate as humanly possible in an attempt to cut out all the words you can’t understand and the people you don’t know. This makes you feel a little better, but you cannot cut out the anxiety brewing in your stomach.
You hastily clear your plate, bolt up and slowly begin walking towards the exit. The tables and chairs make it hard to move about. You cannot walk in a straight line, but must make precise turns to the right and left. You feel as if you are trapped inside a maze you trudged through as a child. You just wanted to take the crayon and draw a straight line to whatever tempting cartoon character was waiting for you at the exit. As if somehow by solving the maze you could become more intimate with this character. The character here is the comfort of your room.
You bump into a businessman. He keeps walking as if nothing happened, but you feel the heat of embarrassment on your cheeks. Soon you find yourself leaving the restaurant. The three young women say something and you keep walking, more troublesome thoughts emerge. You hope they were not asking you to stop.
More anxiety grips you, you quickly dodge several people and bolt into the elevator. There are many people inside, there is not much room to move. Aside from the jazz music there is no other sound. No whispering, no coughing, no cell phone conversations. So many people, yet silence. For a moment you imagine yourself somehow connected to these strangers, it almost feels comforting.
The elevator doors open and you find yourself in your room again. You turn on the TV and stare at it for a while, many images, but you have trouble understanding the meanings behind them. You can only see them through the eyes of a foreigner, you can only apply your ideas of what these images mean had you been in the USA to these strange things. You pretend it makes sense to you, but feel that there is still something missing.
After a few hours you get the urge to do something, anything. Back in Dallas you felt so comfortable at home. It was your sanctuary away from the hells of the outside world. But here, in this small room your mind gets cluttered with many strange thoughts. You feel trapped.
Ignoring several small complaints from your mind, you head outside, to the elevator again. Now your spirit is free. Everything feels lighter somehow. The jazz music relaxes you.
Without much thought you head outside the hotel and wonder around. You cross several walkways over the roads. From the sidewalk you see what appears to be a park, but it is raised at least 10 feet in the air by a flat manmade slope. You circle the block looking for an entrance, but only find a small walkway leading to another hotel. You figure the park is part of the hotel. You want to see the park, but don’t want to see the people so you head back to your hotel.
During your journey back you come across a strange glass building. The insides are not covered at all, you can see everything going on inside almost as if there were no walls. You see several racks of tourist pamphlets and take one. Soon you realize people are entering this place and pointing at places in the pamphlets. You see a sign in English and realize this is a place that provides tours.
You take an interesting looking pamphlet and walk through the automatic glass doors. Standing on the doormat you look around, you catch the eye of a 30 something employee, he motions you to his desk and immediately looks away. You hope you weren’t imagining this as you walk up to the desk and sit down. Without a word you open the pamphlet and point at a picture. He nods and makes a few phone calls, after a while he writes some things down and gives you directions in English. This tour will pick you up from your hotel tomorrow morning at 7AM. You produce 10,000 yen and he gives you change with both hands and his head tilted down.
You feel a pang of accomplishment as you take your change and head to the automatic sliding glass doors. You get closer and closer, yet the doors don’t open. Your nose is almost touching the glass, but the doors don’t open. You stand for a second in embarrassment before noticing a button. You push this button and the doors open. You wonder why doors would be automatic from the outside and not from the inside as the elevator carries you to your floor.
Still feeling accomplished you grin as you confidently deposit several coins into a vending machine. You are very thirsty, the hot Tokyo sun has made your throat dryer than a desert. You see a green can that you can only imagine to be mountain dew or some derivative of. You push the button and reach for the can. Suddenly, your hand is scalded. You drop the can and stare at it in confusion. You try to pick it up and are burned again. With a sigh you pick up the can with your shirt and fumble with your keys to get inside your room.
With another sigh you turn on the TV and stare blankly at the images.
A some time later you open the can and drink. It is green tea. It is still warm and does not satisfy your thirst. You leave your room and try another button on the vending machine. It turns out to be a Gatorade like substance. Satisfied you sink into the bed and watch more images.
Many hours later the sun has set and your stomach is growling. You walk into a pizza shop. The words the waiters say are familiar now, you don’t feel so out of place. Bowing and yelling, transferring money by small green trays, it seems normal now, but the pizza tastes bland.
Somewhat satisfied you return to your hotel room, take a relaxing bath and sink into another coma-like sleep.