[This is the first official dispatch from my trip to Asia. I’ll be gone for roughly five months, finishing my novel in Thailand, where it takes place. I’m in Tokyo for two weeks on the way to Bangkok, from where I’ll head for quieter and even cheaper locations.]
The last time I came to Japan, I spent several hours shouting at a tape recorder and a good portion of the rest of the time wondering who the hell I thought I was. That was in 1995. I’m doing considerably less shouting this time, and the fact that I don’t know who I am doesn’t bother me so much anymore.
I’m not sure what’s different this now, but it might just be that time has mellowed me. I lived in Tokyo for four years during what they call the “bubble,” from 1985 to 1990; and I spent more than a little of that time balled up in weltschmerz. I guess I was just young and the world was so damn far from how I wanted it to be. I took a lot of that angst and ennui out on Japan.
New York probably squoze most of that vinegar out of me. A decade of economic stagnation and a drop from their peak bogeyman status in international influence has mellowed the Japanese, but things are basically the same here, and it is I who have changed, of course.
Tokyo’s no more green than it used to be, but I’m loving the alleys and lights even more than before. The big difference for me is the people. What I used to interpret as apathy now looks more like patience. I used to see helpless despair in the faces of the commuters on the train, now I see relaxed calm after a hard day’s work done. I suspect I communicate with a much lighter touch than I used to, and what I get back from the Japanese people is much more open and warm than I remember.
It’s as though Japan is a box of kittens. I came at them like a five-year-old boy last time, and I got scratched and they ran. (Well, actually they were pretty tolerant of me, and definitely amused.) This time around, I’m surprised to see how nicely things go if I don’t scare the wits out of them from the start.
In any event, I’m much happier now, and loving Japan more than ever. But then it all might just be jetlag and the euphoria that comes with not having to show up at the office (no offence to the office).
Speaking of the office, there’s a little piece in this week’s Time Out that Bob Eckstein and I did together. It’s online as well:
But really, what have I been up to?
Homemade sesame tofu. Sake that tastes like cedar. A Spanish place with paella the size of a temple gong. One hundred photos of a concrete river. Cafes where the waitresses kneel at your table dressed in French Maid outfits. Good sushi for lunch at a dollar a plate. A fish market roughly as busy as Mozart’s synaptic junctions. And bless their hearts, mini skirts and boots are the standard fashion, winter be damned.
I have very comfy accommodations, by the way, in a four bedroom apartment near Hiroo (in Tokyo) with ambient wi-fi, filtered water at one’s choice of three pH levels, and a fancy toilet that washes and dries. There’s no central heating, however, which is normal here. I just hope I don’t set the place on fire with the heaters.
On the agenda for this weekend: Looking for ikebana, going to a spa, and seeing my host’s boyfriend’s band – Music from the Mars [sic]. Probably there will be more drinking of sake.
Now that jetlag is graciously surrendering, I’m looking up old colleagues and drumming up a bit of work. Also, getting up the courage to face old radio cohorts. Wish me luck. I’ll be out of here in another week, so I’m already gearing up for the stress of Thai food, a hotel with a pool, warm weather, etc.