After indulging my Tokyo listlessness for long enough, the decision is made. I fly, bullet-like, through crowded space from Shakuji-koen to Ikebukero, with my predetermined target guiding me: Ueno station and the shinkansen. At first, the sleek vessel trundles slowly towards Omiya, an unimpressive surburb of Tokyo that we reach at an equally unimpressive pace. Omiya has the feel of a slum. It’s a far cry from the high dystopian splendour of Shibuya. But, at the same time, Tokyo is no slum. After all, I’ve only seen about five faces, housed in cardboard boxes under railway bridges, looking glum.
Soon enough the speed quickens and I’m back in post-industrial Europe. An apartment block in the shape of a ship – much like the magnificent 60s monstrosity that haunts the high hill in my south-east London neighbourhood – beckons with the promise of distant travels. Then an abandoned office building, reminiscient of the creepy structures that used to crawl with crazed Croydon squatters back in the mid-2000s. Finally, an old factory tinged with yellowing rust that reminds me of more proletarian days in my summer adventures through the Eastern Bloc.
It’s funny how things creep up on you. Among all this European familiarity, I’m suddenly aware that we’re surrounded by cloud-like snow caps that peek out above the hazy mountain mist. Yet as we get closer to the peaks, and to nature itself, the shinkansen subtely picks up speed. It’s as if the mere act of being aboard this smoothly-crafted, man-made and soon-to-be subterranean vehicle revokes our license to view the outside earthly gifts. Tunnel then trees, tunnel then trees. And with each tunnel, we lurch onwards.
At long last, the prize is revealed. An emergent bushy settlement gives way to a stretch of low-lying houses in the valley. A regal mountain crowns its subjects. The throne? A lop-sided bonnet with spectacular streaks of crisp white sheets. You make your bed with Fuji, ever conscious that the imperial will of your newfound love is steadfast and unrelenting. Fuji-san rules this stretch of Honshu and surely already knows the outcome of my Murakami-bound fate.
I savour this moment while I can and hurtle, undeterred, towards Nagano…