Text and photo by Grigoris A. Miliaresis
For the last five years, every year on July 22, I always do the same thing: I go to Shinjuku, I buy a tea from the vending machine and then I go out from the western street level exit of the station (it’s also called “Odakyu exit” because it is in the ground floor of the department store with the same name), I stand at the smoking area right in front of it and I smoke a pipe drinking the tea and watching the coming and going of the people, the cars and the sun burning the facades of the skyscrapers across the street –the sun is always burning on July 22 because the date falls right in the heart of the insufferable Japanese summer. By the time I finish my pipe, the tea has turned from iced to lukewarm, almost hot and I’m sweating rivers; fortunately I don’t need more than 15 minutes to end this small ritual and return to the refreshing coolness of the station.
I return to that spot every year because that was my first image of Tokyo –my first “normal” image that is since those that passed before my eyes while coming with the bus from Narita were too many and fast to be able to recall them without hypnosis. The bus left us (me and my good friend and companion in that first trip, Yanni N.) a few yards from the smoking area and we stood there to regroup and carry on to our hotel. And even though I can claim with some certainty that in the six years that passed I have seen a big part of Tokyo and that some of its areas I know –mostly due to personal obsessions – almost as good as the locals, the sidewalk in front of Shinjuku’s western exit remains one of the most characteristic images of the metropolis for me.
There’s little doubt that this is an emotional response. Still the emotion I try –and until know achieve- to evoke was not amazement but the instant familiarity that overcame me when I managed to watch Tokyo (or at any rate, a small part of it) from the inside for the first time. Everything I knew about Japan, everything I had read, seen, heard, discussed, imagined and assumed was instantly grounded to reality and that grounding didn’t shock me at all; in fact the only shock I felt was in the realization that I wasn’t shocked. I was there, in the most magnificent city in the world, the only city I had an actual burning desire to visit at least once in my life, everything was in its place and the only thing I felt was peace and balance, Tom Robbins’ perfect taco.
Before I left, I heard this year’s first cicada. Here’ to the next year, Tokyo!
Grigoris A. Miliaresis is a journalist and translator. He has worked for many newspapers, magazines and publishing houses and specializes on the Internet, the martial arts and Japan where he has been living for the last few years.