“There’s a city in my mind
Come along and take that ride
[…]And it’s very far away
But it’s growing day by day”
Standing in a cultural airlock, surrounded by unfamiliar faces, anxious to be catapulted from my comfort zone, into a colossal neon-lit metropolis….
I pass through hours, through evening and morning, back into evening. Just when time itself starts to lose its meaning, I arrive at the other side of the world. The asymmetric pattern of my index fingers unlocks safe passage into the unknown. I am ushered calmly through the gate.
I fly through cavernous halls, through tubes and tunnels, electronic voices chattering in my ears, making piecemeal sense. My eyes are flooded with advertising; banners, screens, symbols, characters and imagery… my brain is spinning like a dynamo, processing half-remembered words as I pass through the city’s crowded veins.
“Mamonaku, suni wa Shinjuku desu”
Eyes stare at handheld screens, into pages of palm-sized books – reading right-to-left, or at the ground….perhaps occasionally making contact with my own, but faces always remain inert and passive…polite but ultimately unreadable. Bodies flow in and out, always moving, never colliding, like organic cells passing through membranes, or flocks of birds that collectively weave patterns in the dusk.
Make no mistake, this is a mega city like no other. Built on a billion tons of concrete, built to survive earthquakes, tsunamis…the unstable earth’s wrath. Layers and layers of human lives stacked on top of one another, micro apartments like bento boxes…..but rarely any personal conflict – all seems outwardly calm. There are social mechanisms, protocols; an inherent indirectness, expectations and assumptions that are always fulfilled. These foundations are perhaps more important than all the concrete and steel.
I emerge from the subterranean maze, into the moonlit evening chill. Hungrily wandering the confusion of narrow streets, I catch glimpses of my reflection in plate glass – kaleidoscopic images of my face lit with a spectrum of neon, which bleeds from shop signs into the darkness.
I arrive at a ramen restaurant and am greeted by a flashing vending machine, like some angular Kubrik-esque bouncer-cum-butler, politely offering me dining options. I choose a pork ramen and yebisu beer. The machine spits out a small magenta ticket. I step over the threshold and into the aromatic wooden interior – it feels warm, welcoming, strangely familiar… I am instantly handed a cold glass of water and a hot hand towel – protocol. The ramen has real depth and a penetrating, nourishing warmth that cannot be matched by any food back home. The beer is crisp and slightly dry.
I feel my muscles and bones relax. As I sit in the noodle parlour, in a narrow backstreet, in one of the busiest districts, in the most densely populated city on earth, on the opposite side of the globe, I cannot help but drift off into existential thoughts….
As cities go, it doesn’t get any bigger…so I suppose when you’re seeking something, or you want to get lost, there is perhaps no better place to be.