In the gray light of very early evening, the cherry blossoms along the river glow like clusters of tiny moons. A brisk, unseasonably cold wind hums pleasantly through the street. Its voice mingles with the rumbling of cars and the pitter-patter of soft rain, generating a misty, muffled soundscape that feels like standing with toes in the ocean. A half-dozen private security guards stand, in plastic raincoats, at each intersection. One holds a posterboard encouraging would-be flower-gazers to return home.
We walk to Tokyo Tower, a smaller Eiffel Tower-style monument painted in vivid neon red-orange, now surpassed in popularity by many taller, newer, more glamorous buildings. A few people wander idly around the entrance, but I don’t see anyone cross the silver cylinders of the ticket turnstile. Tokyo Tower weeps soundlessly. A vermillion has-been, tucked into a nondescript office district, nestled inconsequentially into the dense sprawl. It’s east to be lost here. Tokyo is formed, like an insect’s gem-colored, segmented eye, into a million corners, blind alleys, broken-down storefronts, rooms seeking tenants, concrete bridges, glittering skyscapers, bustling avenues, cavernous sewers, and secretive, dark-doored basement bars. Anonymity is a staple of identity. Living alone, you can go years yearning for company, without knowing that, just around the corner, not twenty feet away, a man makes the most delicious coffee and the most engaging conversation in all of Tokyo.
A few subway stops from Tokyo Tower, we ascend three flights of stairs to a temple complex. A elderly cat sits on a step, so completely still I am not initially sure if it’s a real animal. A wounded koi fish, gouged flesh protruding like foam from a cut along its back, swims briskly through dark water freckled with lily pads. The temple is located dizzingly high above the road below; I look down the steep steeps, lined in stone lanterns, my pulse shooting through my body in a flood of vertigo. Below us, Tokyo unfolds, the ultimate in urban ugliness. Reinforced concrete, glass, asphalt, and steel: the four twisting strands of its DNA. Daylight seems to bring out the absolute worst in the city’s features: heat-exuding four-laned roads, frantic intersections, blocky, glass-walled department stores, squareish buildings clothed in endless banner ads.
A paradise of commerce, a den of inaccessible subculture, a froth of traditional symbolism, 90’s holdovers, and cyberpunk aspirations. It’s strange to think that Tokyo is where I will have spent the bulk of my twenties. It’s not my home, per se, but it is where I cycle through sleep, dream, wakefulness, and where I live out the days from within my catalog of moods. Each day starts out the same way. I open my eyes in a four-story apartment building at the base of a concrete hill, located by the hip of a canal that snakes through the city before draining into the glassy waters of Tokyo Bay. I open the curtains onto my skinny street, where even small cars manage to skim my sleeves as they inch past. Chunky telephone cables thread the air above, like strands loosed from a tapestry. Crows hop from roof to roof. A few hours after dawn, they swoop down, yelling as vociferously as roosters, their pebble-like eyes catching and scattering the light like cheap rhinestones. When I leave the apartment, I notice where the flowers have fallen and gathered on the dimples in the sidewalk, in depressions leading to the storm drains. Their tiny pink thumbprints studding, for a few more days, Tokyo’s vast, intricate urban body. As the hours pass, the edges of their petals yellow, like old newsprint.