since she arrived in japan, my girlfriend has been asking me if i could find some time to take her to tokyo. she is new to japan, and her enthusiasm is admirable. which is to say, i totally understand her reasoning for wanting to go. when she returns home, her friends and family are more than likely going to ask her the usual battery of ridiculous questions, and to be unable to answer them would be embarassing.
- did anyone try to grope you on the train?
- how did you use chopsticks for so long?
- did you see any ninjas?
- how was the sushi?
- are you radioactive now?
- what was tokyo like?
when your family expects an impressive story about the capital of japan and you respond with “i didn’t go to tokyo because my boyfriend was busy,” you end up looking the fool. how did you go to japan and not end up in tokyo one time?
it isn’t as if we don’t do anything. i have taken her all around the izu peninsula. we have been to a local honey shop, a bamboo forest, so many delicious restaurants i can barely keep track anymore, a ton of onsen, and quite a few local landmarks. we have toured a brewery, eaten turtle hotpot, and sampled a variety of regional specialties from all over japan. i wasn’t avoiding the tokyo trip in the hopes that she would eventually forget about it. in all honesty, i forgot about it time and time again because, maybe subconsciously, tokyo isn’t a place i would ever go for fun. the city itself bothers me in an inexplicable, profound way, just like most other heinously sprawling cities do.
i could have made it abundantly clear to my girlfriend that i dislike tokyo. but to do so would have undermined her curiosity. she trusts my opinion on a lot of things in japan, and to dissuade her for selfish reasons would be unfair. she deserved to discover the city for herself, and form her own opinion based on experience.
and so, when the opportunity to visit tokyo presented itself under the guise of an unassuming kitchen town christmas, we went with a small contingent of friends. hanging out with our friends was a blast, and we both would have loved nothing more than to walk about on kappabashi street and frolic in ueno park until we turned blue in the face.
but by the second day, after wandering through places like asakusa’s kaminari-mon, she pulled me aside and told me “now that i have been here, i never have to come back.” i knew that, just like me, the crowds and the city had started to weigh on her.
when we talked about it later, we both agreed. sometimes, when there are just too many people out and about in the heart of the city, it seems like tokyo doesn’t have any people at all. they become part of the city. they have no faces, no personalities, no lives, and no families. they have no empathy, no relationships, and no dreams. they are a single, ebbing and flowing mass, carrying you from place to place as if you were a tiny, insignificant krill in a vast, dark, body of water. it is both humbling and truly terrifying at times.
by the time we got on the local train to head home to izu, we were both dead tired. the endless shopping plazas, the hocking of subpar merchandise, the endless exploitation of foreigners who just don’t know any better, and the urban sprawl had all but wiped us out. every moment spent in tokyo requires the expediture of just a little bit of energy in order to remain sane and in control. after two days, there was no energy left.
and yet, pmk doesn’t contain negative blog posts. there is a moral to this story, and it isn’t “don’t go to tokyo.”
the moral is that, in order to be happy, i think every person needs to establish their own clear distinctions between places good for visiting and places good for living. to me and my girlfriend, tokyo is a place to visit one time. every passing second just standing on a sidewalk is taxing. even while sleeping in a tiny little capsule hotel, something inexplicable consumes your relaxation and keeps you on edge. i’m sure there are people who love living in tokyo, and can’t even begin to imagine how boring their lives would become if they lived in a rural area.
such as izu. which is, without a doubt, a place to live.
when i bike to work every morning, even if i have to take my one gear bike ten kilometers to the top of a mountain and teach a whole day of classes, i finish the day smiling. even the most stressful day can’t leave me defeated. the nature, the hospitality, and the persistent calmness of almost everybody you meet makes your fatigue, whether mental or physical, just melt away.
every moment i spend in izu, every second that passes, is a blessing that encourages me to make the most of my time.