Arrived back from Japan yesterday. It always weirds me out, the time difference. We left Narita airport at 4 pm on Monday and arrived at 9 am on Monday. We had sprung forward too with daylight savings, which also made it weirder. Then I really fucked up and instead of powering through the day like I normally do and crashing at 10 pm or so, I decided to give in and take a nap -- a 6 hour nap. Grrr. So here I am, wide awake this morning at 4 am, with a nasty case of jet lag.
I already miss Japan. It is hard for me to describe why, especially after arriving in Cali and seeing the bright blue sky and fluffy clouds, smelling the clean air and not being assaulted by cigarette smoke everywhere, and feeling free of the stifling pressure of Tokyo, a city that never sleeps. The missing is much more than just missing being on vacation. Japan is otherwordly, you know? It is like inserting yourself into someone's strange dream, where you are always a spectator, the anonymous audience, and where your interactions with the landscape are almost always completely controlled by you. You are at once on a pedestal and watched by everyone, and also held in contempt and frankly, feared, which gives you an eerie sense of freedom and feeling of lack of responsibility, because you attach yourself to the organism of Japan and ride it, but you will never be part of it. That dreamscape is attractive. But it is lonely too.
Japan holds its citizens in a sort of cocoon, and this is especially true in Tokyo, where anything can be bought except for that human spark that comes from adversity and diversity. Even Hiroko told us she thinks that is the thing that stifles Japan: its lack of passion and danger by isolating its citizenry from natural human interaction. You can have a toilet that plays water sounds when you sit down on its warmed seat in every public restroom (admittedly, very cool!), Balenciaga on your arm, the finest restaurants around, and a mobile that can do more than many personal computers, but what does that matter when these things are meant to take the place of questioning, interacting, and feeling true joy because you know about pain as well?
Not that Japanese life is easy. I really believe that Japan, for all its nifty little gadgets and curry and beer at 3 am and trains that really do run on time, has a lower standard or living than most places. And this is because of its intense need to shield its citizens from plain old untidy LIFE. Without strife, the human mind withers, the soul becomes empty, and soon all people do is buy material goods, endure intensely crowded trains and cities to make the money for those material goods, and forget that life is about feeling something. It's Japan's propensity to politely gambatte -- endure -- very orderly but still inhuman work, transportation, and city conditions, (aaargggh, and the fucking endless noise pollution from announcements about being careful about everything, everywhere) but trade that endurance for simple fleeting creature comforts, that creates dullness . At the end of the day I too would simply look forward to the only time I was ever really alone -- in the ofuro -- and a can of grapefruit shochu to try to melt the stress of the day away. No wonder there's a monstrous suicide and alcoholism rate. Where is the spark, the duende, and that fundamental need for real human interaction amongst 33 million people standing shoulder to shoulder literally 15 hours of the day?
But I digress. I do miss Japan already, and, yes, sometimes for its creature comforts. That toilet that talks to me at the mall and plays lovely music at my mere presence in the stall. Gourmet groceries in every basement of every department store, with enough free samples of dried fish, osenbei, pickled vegetables, and sake, yes sake, to make a meal for a poor gaijin. The ubiquitous Japanese vending machine, stocked with hot curry, whiskey, socks, ice cold green tea, hot cans of mugi cha or sake, even out in the middle of nowhere. Trains that run on time. Leaving your digital camera (or money-stuffed wallet, or purse, or child) in an ATM kiosk near busy Tokyo station and running back 20 minutes later to find it still there, unmolested. Clerks who will leave their store and walk with you for 4 blocks in Shibuya to show you where a competing record store is. Sitting at Shibuya station and just watching in awe the neverending ungodly throng of people that seems to boil out from the sidewalk, all day, at all times, even when the trains have stopped running. Earring hole floss. Japanese fashion. Men who dress better in general than any other men on this earth. Cherry trees that crop up everywhere, and blossom in explosions, showering you with petals at the slightest breeze. Exquisite fruit. The coolest eyeglass frames for $60, standard. Mos Burger (oh, cruelty that you are not in the States). Matsumoto Kiyoshi and 100 yen shops at every turn. The Japanese cafe, where one can order an inexpensive daikon salad or a yakisoba omelet, a drink, and have a smoke in some of the most relaxing, hip, and unique-looking atmospheres around. Best cafe: All glass storefront and bare concrete walled Ojiyan, in Shimokitazawa, where I shared ojiyan (savory soft rice), natto salad, and black sesame latte with Hiroko and talked about butoh while listening to spacey jazz and perusing the crazy colorful acrylic and charcoal art on the walls.
Nihon, for all your faults, I love you still. See you in a couple of years.