Towards the end of last year, I went on a month-long trip to Japan. In part, this was down to my endless enjoyment of Haruki Murakami’s whisky-soaked surrealism, my voyeuristic admiration for Nobuyoshi Araki’s artistic peversions and the age-old quest to link-up with Princess Zelda and drop some heavy shit on Ganon’s boar-ish chops. But my long-term childhood collaborator and brother from a Scottish mother was also living temporarily in Tokyo with our mutual friend Genne, the mysterious Japanese rapping badman. So it all came together nicely.
Narita airport is an efficient piece of business. My tourist visa gets sorted within five minutes and with a sharp Hei! I’m waved and welcomed through. Narita is a joy to land at, but a slight ballache to get to the city from. Upon arriving at Ikebukero, I’m struck by the volume of East Asian faces around me. Moments later, I’m also struck by my own distasteful ignorance and remember that, surprisingly enough, I am in fact in East Asia. I enter an anonymous coffee joint among Ikebukero station’s labyrinthine passages and sit there surrounded by chattering Tokyo residents. There’s older couples drinking milky lattes, suited gents on a swift lunch break and 30-something year old girls sipping iced coffees in all their plastic glory. As I wait for the chief to pick me up, alone with a black americano in front of me and book in my hand, it strikes me: there’s got to be some Murakami somewhere on this trip.
We’re staying in Genne’s humble abode, not so far from Shakujii-kōen park. I’m presented with the joys of an automatic bath, where a press of a button delivers you a self-regulating steaming hot bathtub, accompanied by a neat little riddim to let you know that the bath’s ready. Over the next few days I eat sushi – it’s fresh, cheap and probably entirely unsustainable – and delve into some smokey culinary guesswork at a few izakayas. A trip to Shibuya can’t be missed, but I’m a Westerner in the place and, let’s be honest, there’s no talking cats in Lost In Translation. Even if there were, it’d take some Studio Ghibli-esque antics to save our four-pawed friends from the incessant rampant stamp of Tokyo’s most famous district. I jump on the Yamanote Line, thinking that the skyscraping neon blocks of Shinjuku are surely home to infinite corridors brimming with corporate conspiracies just waiting to be solved with the assistance of a fleeting female companion. Unfortunately, my utter lack of Japanese prevents me from understanding quite where any of the numerous elevators might take me.
More dead ends
Of course, Tokyo is more than Shibuya and Shinjuku. My friend and I end up in a wealthy German family’s empty high rise apartment in the Roppongi Hills one night. Regrettably, I manage to fall asleep in the twilight hours, thus thwarting any attempt of the liquid sands of time to seep into my consciousness and switch-up my destiny. The reels of electrical waste in Akihabara also offer good potential. The market owner tells us one particular tape player is broken and not for sale, but I’m certain it would tear a hole in the fabric of reality if we tried to press ‘play’.
The closest I seem to get is round the back of Ikebukero station. In a blatant attempt to invoke Murakami, I’m searching for a café called Dream Coffee. Instead, I stumble across a shop decorated from floor to ceiling with stacks of art and photography. A Christmas edition from Tom of Finland is peeking out at me, so I follow his call. On the right-hand side, just next to a collection of 60s erotic postcards, is a whole shelf dedicated to Araki. I sift through unknown treasures, seeking to move beyond kinbaku-bi, but not knowing quite what I’m looking for. I’m leafing through a recent edition and my eyes land on a portrait of Murakami, shot by Araki. Suspecting something meaningful is at play, I take the book to the assistant. In typical Tokyo style, he hasn’t even raised his head yet to acknowledge my presence, even though I’ve been in the store for a good 15 minutes. He’s still somewhat muted, so I tell him that it’s a wonderful bookshop. At this point, the cogs whirl and he begins to speak Japanese to me. He’s directing me somewhere, pointing to a small map on the back of a flyer. The problem is, I can’t make any sense of it and leave the place none the wiser.
The chase begins
In my despair, I spend many days in a Shakujii-kōen laundrette. Ostensibly I’m there to clean my clothes. But of course, we all know this is the perfect setting to enter the rabbit-hole. What better place to flirt with reality than among the banal whir and spin of washing machines and dryers? I sit there earnestly with my deep blue Lamy and sleek Muji notepad, writing poetry about vanilla milkshakes and the unrepentant will of purification, as I wait for something to happen. The most action I get is an elderly Japanese man who motions to a dryer in an attempt to ascertain whether the uncollected clothes inside are mine. Disappointingly, the clothes don’t belong to me and the grandad doesn’t turn out to be a nefarious cat dealer tasked with setting me on an intropective multidimensional mission.
And then it occurs to me. It’s 1.52am and I’ve just lit a Peace cigarette outside the Nerima-doshida branch of 7-Eleven. I’m allegedly there to buy some mochi ice-cream, but secretly I’m waiting for a chance encounter. I want to be elevated to indescribable carnal bliss by unsheathed ears, to confess my blood-stained Oedipal reality to a sisterly hairdresser, to follow felines into far-flung fields of fantasy and frustration. I’ve made a mistake though. In becoming fixated on Murakami, I’ve anchored myself to a sole location, Tokyo. But there’s no internal journey without an external one to match.
It’s decided. The shinkansen to Kyoto beckons…