November 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 face 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 dilemma of 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 said from the cabin, the language still sounds familiar and somehow I laugh silently few times because it feels like someone has tried 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 still on the next day afternoon.
I sit on a comfy chair between two escalators, eat a slice of bread and drink a Goodday full cream milk I’ve just bought on WHSmith mini-mart. While watching around, I see a traveler with a backpack carrying a Banjo walking toward me and then sit on a comfy chair alongside. Just within a few minutes we involve in a conversation, my first impression suggest me that he is from North America since Banjo is mostly played by North American, but he actually comes from Norway. “where are you heading?” I asked. “Bali,” he said, “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 certainly is noodles. I’m on WHSmith again, looking for breakfast, on the payment queue in front 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 passport to buy noodles. Then they pay it respectively and in all of a sudden few of them changed their mind in the middle of the transaction, with a flash move they 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 sit in front of me and talking in Indonesian language with my hometown dialect. I remember having seen them somewhere. I’m stealing glances and trying to remember their names since I’m pretty sure that both of them are my senior when I was in junior high school. I only remember the name of the woman but I’m not convinced. After a while, I just greet them by saying the name of our school and we instantly talk about the past, my plan to 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 taking off the stewardess in front of me closed her eyes, she looks calm but I can sense the presence of her anxiety. By only seeing her face you can’t really tell she is a Japanese; she can 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 when you look long into an abyss the abyss also looks into you”
From the airplane window, I see Tokyo covered by the sea of light, it glows endlessly without gradients, 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 by people from everywhere who just arrived. It’s almost midnight but the crowd is still deluge, some officers in front of the line directing people to any available counter and warned us not to take pictures in this area. While waiting and circling the line I give my attention to every passport 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, some African-American dudes with ‘United States of America’ passport, some cute girls which at first I thought from Indonesia since they held passports with the same color as mine but it’s actually a Taiwan passport, and 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 people from around the world are waiting to enter the giant ark in order to save themselves from the world apocalypse.
I hold a disembarkation card for foreigner which needs to be filled, and I still wondering with a type of question which needs you to confess of something, like the question about “possession of controlled substances, guns, bladed weapons, and gun powder” followed by yes or no options. It’s ridiculous in some stances but I try to think about another possibility, ‘it might be a kind of a priori question which will be proved in the end by looking backward’, so suppose that I choose a ‘no’ answer, then I got caught because it turns out that I bring one of those items, therefore, I will get more severe punishment since I didn’t confess at the first place. That still sounds ridiculous. It seems like they faced an impasse when designed those questions.
A custom officer do her routine and stamped my passport, I have a freedom to explore Japan for the next 90 days, “at best” (with the consequences of lost my job, hunted by my VP, and no letter of recommendation). I grab my backpack, change my sim card, and look for the Suica card machine (a daily commute card for JR train service) 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 suddenly change into a crowd of people right when I arrived at Akihabara for transit. From Asakusa, I continue by walk to my hotel and stop by 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 have asked me about my arrival time before and inform me to find the 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 stellar human achievement. Are you shy? just press the sound button. Out of tissue? there is a fan for your butt. Don’t worry if you can’t see the button, that’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 at 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 dryer, and any other sophisticated features there? Isn’t it revolutionary?
Next to the toilet, there is a door to the semi balcony and stairs to the rooftop of the building, I go outside, eat my onigiri and banana, while watching the view of Sumida river. After a moment, in a near distance beside this hotel in a small apartment, I see 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 not to watch her and in an abrupt, she looks back at me, smiles, and nod his head then come inside afterward. I’m still there, wondering why she watering the plants at 1 AM??
It’s 8:14 AM, I come to the receptionist on the 9th floor and inform about my presence. The room is decorated in a traditional Japanese house nuance (ryokan); the tatami, the sliding shoji door, mini table, shoe area (genkan), and a contrast urban view from the window. The aroma of coffee permeates all over the room, I can’t help to resist this coffee’s blandishment, I back to my room and take my laptop with me, enjoying the coffee, write this note then finishing the remaining programming tasks from the office.
When I was at Kuala Lumpur I had made a quick research about places I want 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 make another extensive research about places I really want to visit, some hidden places where there are not so many tourists, nature places where I can do a little hike, some spot mentioned at Murakami’s novel, and some parts of the city where I will let myself lost without having any destination to visit. I pint point all of the places I’ve been looking for at Google Maps. Perhaps it would be more interesting if I do this without Google Maps at all, which means I might interact with people more often, lost and spend more time in my confusion more often, and accidentally found unusual places more often. I should try that one day, a total journey without the help of navigation or translation technology.
I leave the hotel around 2 PM, stop by at the nearest 7eleven and grab a salmon scramble eggs onigiri, and a bottle of berry smoothie then continue my walk to Akihabara, about 2km from my place, then spare the first two hours looking for second Nintendo 3DS for my friend.
As I jump like a frog from one store to another, at one intersection I stop for a moment when I’m looking at a red building with a big SEGA word upon it. All of this brings my memory back to 1998, the day when my mother just back from her office and brought 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 move forward to 2004 during my junior high school year I can see myself sitting on the corner of my school library during break time, read mostly Japanese comics like Dragon Ball, Samurai-X, Detective Conan and many more. Apparently, they had been there manifested their memory, and waiting 21 years ahead.
Few blocs behind the toy stores I got stopped by a woman wearing an anime cosplay, this is not the first time I got approached by a cosplaying woman since I entered this area; if the previous woman offered food this one offering companionship to smoke hookah. I told her if I can’t speak Japanese but she replies with “I can speak English” while keep following me slowly I ask her what is that about, 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 a 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. I think I’ve read about it in one of the short stories by Aan Mansyur, an Indonesian poet. Apart from the love stories that surrounded this park, there is another story reside in the perimeter of this park, 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 next to me there is a young couple, they look like on a date, I glance 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 that comes out attracts me to find out what they have inside. They write the shop’s name and the open sign with English words but the menu they put in front of the door is completely in Japanese words, what a strange world. Inside, I can see a row of standing people slurping noodles. Every time I find out a long queue in a place I never heard or a new hype place, I sometimes have this suspicious gaze that the people in the queue are paid participants, friends, or relatives of the owner merely as cosmetics to attract customers. The booming of various boba milk around Jakarta for example, that’s really suspicious. On the queue right behind me stood 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 or not. ‘Eigo ga hanasemasu ka?‘. She nod. I ask her what they have inside and why they eat while stand up, ‘it’s soba udon’ she replies and thinks for a while. ‘where do you from?’, ‘can you guess?’, ‘Spain or Italy?’, ‘why?’, ‘your hair’. The conversation is interrupted and we should get inside. I’m completely puzzled, the menu is on a machine full of buttons labeled in Japanese kanji. She 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.