Yesterday, close to midnight, as I was walking up the hill towards E's house, alone in the cold, I found myself stopping a few times just to remember. To etch this night into my memories of having lived in Japan.
I was surrounded by the perfect picture of surburban sereneness- most of the homes were lit from inside, their inhabitants preparing to go to bed and the streets were dead quiet. The sky was a beautiful midnight blue, speckled with stars and lit by the the full moon wrapped in a hazy glow. The late autumn air was fresh and sobering. and as I stood there in my downjacket and boots, I found myself tearing.
"I won't be here the next autumn," I thought to myself, almost sadly.
65 days left in this sprawling metropolis, and I remove my rose-tinted lens and start making mental note of this crazy city I've grown accustomed to.
I was on my way to the Starbucks near the Shinjuku South exit when I was approached by a dignified-looking businessman in a well-cut suit who must have been in his early 40s. He murmured something to me, I was caught by surprise. I turned to him and told him I wasn't local in Japanese.
"No Japanese? Can you speak English?" He asked in his language.
"I speak English." I said, trying to fend him off.
"Are you waiting for someone?" he switched effortlessly to English.
"No, I'm not waiting for anyone." hoping he hadn't mistaken me for a streetwalker.
"Do you have some time?" he asked, almost earnestly, and I knew what he wanted.
"I'm going to the bank."
"What bank?" he persisted.
"Citibank? Hmm... I don't know where."
"Don't worry about it." I was becoming testy.
"After you go to the bank," and he paused, "do you have time for coffee?"
"No..." I smiled reluctantly.
"Oh... Okay, thank you." And with that, he walked away casually.
The thing about these salarymen is, they all dress, look and behave the same in public- you couldn't tell one from another. Yet you scratch the surface and begin to see varying layers of moral complexity and peculiarity, their true selves hidden from society under a blanket of uniformity. How many women would he approach today, I wonder, and would anyone actually agree. What did his boss think he was doing, does he have a family, or any friends? It was beyond me.
And as I walked home from the station, I am suddenly aware of the huge neon billboards that keeps the city alive at all hours of the day. Add that to the incessant cacophony of the salespeople standing at their storefront with a microphone delivering their high-pitched rehearsed speech, the entire neighbourhood is an assault on my senses. Over the last year, I have learnt to shut out the lights and the noise, my only focus was on getting home where I could retreat to the quiet privacy of my room.
Later, on the train to E's, the Keihin-Tohoku line is packed with late-night commuters, many of whom are drunk, and you can tell by their flush faces and slurred speech. The Japanese would not tolerate people talking on their mobile phones on the train, they call it a public nuisance. But yet it is okay to have half a dozen drunkards in every cabin, unable to stand upright and reeking of alcohol. Or to have men who read their erotic magazines on the trains, the pages of their telephone-book-thick publications filled with unsavoury pictures of naked/semi-naked women, their privates mosaiced. I don't get it.
Don't get me wrong, I love Japan. But it is very different coming here on a vacation and actually working and living here, and I am glad for my experience here, which has certainly opened my eyes to another world.