Nov 11, 2019
Summer, 2019. I have a plan to make literary notes during my travel to Japan. My mind still wandering around the form and the language. I’m facing a symptom of language disorientation right now. I think I’m capable of writing in English to a certain degree, but I feel an inflexibility in it. I might struggle with the expression limitation or tone nuance in this non-native language. Then I start counting and decided to give it a try, as an experiment perhaps? let see how far I can survive
I text my mother to say goodbye and my brother to inform him about all of my belongings. It really sounds like a death message rehearsal.
It’s not difficult to understand every information the flight attendant has announced from the cabin. The language still sounds familiar, and somehow I laugh silently few times because it feels like someone is trying to whisper me a cute version of my native language. I arrive at Kuala Lumpur around 9.30 PM, the airport is huge as hell, my next flight to Tokyo is scheduled for the following afternoon
I sit on a comfy chair between two escalators, eating a slice of bread and drinking a Goodday full cream milk I just bought from the WHSmith mini-mart. While looking around, I notice a traveler with a backpack carrying a Banjo walking towards me and then sit on a comfy chair nearby. Within a few minutes we engage in a conversation. My first impression suggest that he is from North America since Banjo is mostly played there, but he actually comes from Norway. “where are you heading?” I ask. “Bali,” he responds, “and you?”, “Tokyo”, “is this your first time to Bali?”, “no, this is my second time, I just want to stay there longer this time”. I want to ask ‘why he wanted to stay longer’, but then I change my mind and ask something else instead
If there is one thing that unites Asian people, it is certainly their love for noodles. I find myself at WHSmith again, looking for breakfast. In the payment queue ahead of me, there are 6 Chinese grandmas holding instant noodles on the right hand and Republic of China’s passport on the left hand. I have no idea about the passport; perhaps they think they need a passport to buy noodles. As they’re trying to pay, suddenly a few of them changed their minds, with a flash move they swiftly back to the food stacks and grab some more items
An hour before departure, I recharge my phone in a spot near the gate entrance. There is a couple sitting in front of me and speaking in Indonesian with my hometown dialect. I have a feeling that I have seen them somewhere before. I steal glances, and trying to remember their names, as I’m pretty sure that both of them are my senior when I was in junior high school. I can only recall a little but I’m not entierly convinced. After a while, I decided greet them by mentioning the name of our school and instantly we start talking about the past, my plans for Japan, and their honeymoon plan
I sit beside the window near the front of the cabin, there is no one sitting beside me; it’s just empty. During takeoff, the stewardess in front of me closes her eyes. She looks calm, but I can sense the presence of her anxiety. Just by looking at her face, you can’t really tell if she is a Japanese; she could be someone from China, Korea, or Indonesia until you see her name tag filled with an obvious Japanese name
I read Beyond Good and Evil by Friedrich Nietzche. Epigram 146: “Whoever fights monsters should see to it that in the process he does not become a monster. And if you gaze long enough into an abyss, the abyss will gaze back into you”
From the airplane window, I see Tokyo covered by a sea of lights. It glows endlessly without gradients, like a coruscating stream of light.
Haneda Airport, Tokyo, 10:40 PM. The longest flight and time differences I’ve experienced so far. In a singular perspective, a part of me is advanced in the past.
The immigration line queue is already filled with people from all over the world. It’s almost midnight, but the crowd is still deluge. Some officers in front of the line are directing people to any available counter and warning us not to take pictures in this area. As I wait and circle the line, I observe the passports held by everyone. A Latino family with ‘Republica Italiana’ passport, an Asian with ‘Schw… pass’, well it’s a Swiss passport, a couple with ‘Deutschland’ passport, giant black man with ‘United States of America’ passport, a group of cute girls who I thought from Indonesia, but they actually hold Taiwan passports, then a group of Indian with India Passport, a white lady with South Africa passport, and.. some other countries. This crowd reminds me of a scene from 2012 movie, where a pair of chosen individuals from around the world are waiting to enter the giant ark in order to save themselves from the world apocalypse
As I hold a disembarkation card for foreigner that needs to be filled, I find myself pondering over a particular type of question which require you to confess of something, like the question about “possession of controlled substances, guns, bladed weapons, and gun powder” with only yes or no options. In some instances, it feels quite ridiculous as if the question present a paradox, but I try to think about another possibility that these questions might be a form of a priori inquiry, meant to be proven or disproven later on by looking backward. For instance, let’s say I choose to answer ‘no’ to the possession of such items, but after an unfortunate random check I get caught with those items. Will I face a more severe punishment than if I had admitted it in the first place?
A customs officer performs her routine and stamps my passport, granting me a freedom to explore Japan for the next 90 days. I grab my backpack, change my sim card, and look for the Suica card machine (a daily commute card for JR train services) since I’m not going to use Shinkansen to travel between the cities. I take a JR service to Asakusa area. It’s so quiet on the train, there is only 3 person inside my carriage before it suddenly changes into a crowd of people right when I arrived at Akihabara for transit. From Asakusa, I continue by walk to my hotel, making stop at Lawson to buy a salmon onigiri, a banana, and milk. I arrive at the hotel with no receptionist in front of the entrance, it’s just a small room for lift access right beside a sake bar. Fortunately, they had previously asked me about my arrival time and inform me to find an instruction paper in front of the lift if I arrived after midnight
“How the hell does this work? What is this button? Toilet in Japan is a magical seat, a trully stellar human achievement. Feeling a bit shy? just press the noise button. Run out of tissue? no problem, there is a built-in fan for your butt. Don’t worry if you can’t locate the button, it’s equipped with braille on it. So sorry, sometimes we forget to put the English translation there, but you can always guess from the picture, right?
Slavoj Zizek, a Slovenian philosopher once told in his Hermeneutics of toilets about how the design of toilets in Germany, France, and England represent their underlying mechanism of existential attitudes. In German, the toilet’s hole is placed at the front so you can sniff and inspect for the traces of illness; which shows their reflective thoroughness or ‘conservatives’ from a political perspective. In France, it’s placed at the back so shit can be vanished as quickly as possible; which shows their revolutionary hastiness or ‘revolutionary radicalism’. In England it’s placed in the middle and full of water, so the shit can be seen floating in it but partially observed; which shows their utilitarian pragmatism of ‘liberalism’ in political perspective. While in Japan as far as I can see it’s located slightly at the back more or less like France. So could it be said they possess a kind of revolutionary hastiness? can we compare the famous French declaration in 1789 which revolutionize our deepest thought about equality to this Japan’s futuristic toilet with its ability to disguise your poop’s noise, positioned water sprayer, butt dryers, and any other sophisticated features there? Isn’t it revolutionary?
Next to the toilet, there is a door leading to a semi balcony and stairs to the rooftop of the building, I step outside, enjoying my onigiri and banana, while watching the view of Sumida river. After a moment, in a nearby apartment, I notice a woman with a towel hanging around her neck and wet hair watering her plants, she looks like just got home from work. I can’t help but watch her and in an abrupt, she looks back at me, smiles, and nod her head then goes back inside. I’m still there, wondering why she was watering the plants at 1 AM
It’s 8:14 AM, I head to the receptionist on the 9th floor to let the know my presence. The room is designed in a traditional Japanese house ambiance (ryokan); the tatami mats, the sliding shoji doors, a small table, a shoe area (genkan), and a contrast urban view from the window. The coffee aroma permeates all over the room, I can’t help to resist this temptation, I return to my room and grab my laptop, then enjoying the coffee while writing this note and finishing some remaining tasks from the office.
When I was in Kuala Lumpur I had done some quick research about the places I wanted to visit in Japan. Actually, when I applied for VISA, I already made one, but it’s really something I made in a rush, a sketch. So I do another extensive research about places I really want to visit, some hidden places with fewer tourists, natural places where I could go for a little hike, some spot mentioned in Murakami’s novel, and some parts of the city where I will let myself lost without having any destination to visit. I pintpointed all these places on Google Maps. Perhaps it would be more interesting if I do this without using Google Maps at all, which means I might interact with people more often, get lost and spend more time in my confusion more often, and accidentally come across unusual places more often. I should try that one day, a total journey without navigation or translation technology.
I left the hotel around 2 PM and made a stop at the nearest 7eleven. I grab a salmon scramble eggs onigiri, and a bottle of berry smoothie before continuing my walk to Akihabara, about 2km from my place. I spent the first two hours looking for second Nintendo 3DS for my friend
As I hopped from one store to another like a frog, at one intersection I stop for a moment when I noticed a red building with a big SEGA word upon it. In all of sudden a flood of involuntary memories came to me. It brings me back to 1998, the day when my mother just back from her work and surprised me with a purple-pink SEGA video game console. I vaguely remember how happy I was on that time, my grandma was sitting behind me and watching me playing Super Mario Bros. If I fast forward to 2004 during my junior high school years, I can picture myself sitting on the corner of my school library during break time, engrossed in reading mostly Japanese comics like Dragon Ball, Samurai-X, and Detective Conan. It’s fascinating how these memories have resurfaced. Apparently, they always been there, waiting 21 years ahead to be awakened
A few blocs behind the toy stores I get stopped by a woman wearing an anime cosplay. This isn’t the first time I’ve been approached by a cosplaying woman since I entered this area. The previous woman offered me a food, and this one is offering companionship to hookah. I tell her that I can’t speak Japanese, but she replies with “I can speak English.” while following me slowly. I ask her what is that about, and she explains to me about the hookah and the cost. I say that I don’t smoke then she stop following me
The crows are everywhere here, they make loud raspy voice while perching on electric cables, so accurate depicting some scenes I’ve seen on Japanese comic. I walk straight to the north, to Ueno park. I’m quite familiar with the name of this park. Apart from the love stories that surrounded this park, there is another story within its perimeter—the story of homeless staring blankly at the lake, most of them are elderly people. I sit on one of the benches in front of the lake, watching two young men on a boat. In the distance I can see half of Tokyo Skytree clearly, two rows away there is a young couple, they look like on a date, I steal glances few times, the man looks so clumsy and sit with a very stiff manner
Not far from Tokyo University, I see a long queue in front of a place named Tokyo Light Blue Hongo-3. The water vapor emanating from the shop catches my attention. They write the shop’s name and the open sign in English but the menu they put in front of the door is completely in Japanese, what a strange world. From the outside, I can peek a row of people standing and slurping noodles. In the waiting line, I remember that whenever I encounter a lengthy queue at a new hype place, I always have this suspicious gaze, thinking that the people in the queue might be paid participants, friends, or relatives of the owner merely as cosmetics to attract customers. The booming of various boba milk shops in Jakarta for example, seems really suspicious. Standing right behind me in the queue is a woman who is probably a university student, it looks like her consciousness traveling somewhere. I dare myself to ask her in simple Japanese if she can speak English. ‘Eigo ga hanasemasu ka?’ She nods. I ask her what they have inside, ‘it’s soba udon’ she replies and thinks for a while. ‘where are you from?’, ‘can you guess?’, ‘Spain or Italy?’, ‘why?’, ‘your hair’. The conversation is interrupted and we should get inside. I’m completely puzzled as I look at the menu on a machine filled with buttons labeled in Japanese. She kindly helps me translating some menus and I decided to order the wakame (seaweed) soba udon. Everyone is slurping noodles here, it’s like a slurping competition between one another.