Tokyo Day 1 – Into the Unknown

You know, when all your veins are trembling,
You recognize it - life!

Wendy Cope

At customs, I think my bag gets targeted for a search because of my pink hair – the uniformed guy sure insisted a bunch of times on the harsh punishment for drug smugglers… Right. The other pink-haired person in the queue also gets their bag searched. Just saying.

It’s 7am, I have slept a maximum of three hours on this goddamn plane, and I do not know what comes next. This is going to be great.

I expect things to be hard, that’s my default when traveling – when I experience life in general – so I’m quite surprised that some things are not that complicated : getting cash, buying a metro card, the trip from the airport to the hostel, leaving my luggage there… all pretty straightforward and easy. I’m starting to think, maybe I can do this.

Turns out I can’t. Not on five hours of sleep in two days and an empty stomach and wifi-less. I walk around aimlessly in the cold before I find a coffee shop to warm up in, install 3G and caffeinate. Respite. And an opportunity to do some serious research on what to do during the next few days. Or like, the next six hours, before I can actually check in at the hostel. The sky overhead is grey and flat. Welcome to Tokyo.

I was warned about the amount of coins I would be handed. So far (yes, it’s been five hours), it has been the opposite of a burden. There was no coins in Cambodia – only ugly dollar bills and poetically insignificant riel bills. Euro coins are ugly and boring. They weigh me down as I avoid the gaze of a different homeless person at every step, escape my pockets into their waiting cups. These delicate little coins weigh nothing – different sizes and shapes and colors, symbolic values that mean nothing to me.

Soon I will escape my refuge and go on the hunt for the famed Shibuya crossing. After a hard morning, I’ve decided to face things head on : six days don’t leave a lot of time for hiding out in a pit of anxiety.

On the other side of the world, my friends are asleep. Margot is very busy not arguing with her family in Mexico. If I think about how alone I am right now, I’ll start crying. But what are coffee shops for if not to spill a few useless tears?

I walk around Shinjuku, then all the way to Shibuya, taking in the urban vastness of this megalopolis. Ugly concrete, compact cars, kawaii designs, swarms of people. As night falls quickly over my weary shoulders, Tokyo lights up around me and seems to pick up speed. I should feel lost and ant-like in this strange city, but I’ve spent evenings crying in the streets of Thailand’s capital, lost and helpless. Tokyo just feels like Bangkok on crack.

For a semblance of familiarity and warmth, I explore the different floors of Tower Records, threaten to burn their Coldplay display (it would serve them right), find twenty one pilots in the rows of albums. I feel more like myself than I have since I left Brussels.

In the brightly colored streets of Shibuya, steadily fed by the crowds scrambling around the famed crossing, the Japanese version of Into the Unknown keeps playing on a loop. A fever dream, a hallucination, a sign. May Elsa’s hunger for adventure be with me.

I’m getting seriously cold and this has been enough outrageous capitalism for one day. I take the subway back to the hostel, buy seaweed onigiri at the konbini (a decade of reading mangas prepared me adequately for this, thank you Ai Yazawa), and enjoy familiarizing myself with the hostel’s kitchen and common room. What a cool place to stay at.

I decide to hit up Harajuku the next day : what’s the point of waiting? This is where I was always heading anyway.

SONG CREDITS: Into the Unknown – Frozen 2 – Disney

Tokyo Day 0 – All things grow

At the airport, after a brutal two hours of sleep and more adulting than I am usually able to handle, I feel myself slip back into that person already. Bare-bones me, haunter of airports. Pink hair, sweatpants, backpack, sad music in my ears (I was in love with the place in my mind, in my mind, I made a lot of mistakes in my mind, in my mind).

After the intensity of the past few days, I’ve been waiting for this: a return to form. I order a truly horrid latte at Exki. Later I’ll go look at the books, strategically place a copy of Good Omens in front of the Cassandra Clares. This is old hat. What comes next is… unknown, in a way that scares me. I am not prepared. This whole trip was a spur of the moment thing and I don’t know how I’ll fare in this very foreign world. But I do get a thrill when the check-in lady announces my final destination. Tokyo. Oh my god.

I still feel the same way I did when I went to San Francisco two years ago. About bringing my fucked up self on this trip and being scared of circumstances as well as myself. With the added bonus of knowing my past self had the same worries and pulled through. With confidence boosted up by the fact that I am now less shit at making friends. But still. How will I measure up?

That thing where they put free-to-use pianos in train stations and airports: I’m obviously very into that. I was waiting for my gate to be announced when someone started playing Bohemian Rhapsody, like an angel sent by Santa to bless my trip. Happy Mercurymass, everybody.

“I think the reason I am doing this is because I enjoy proving myself wrong”, I write in a black notebook, so exhausted I have trouble staying upright, watching the sun rise over Gate A.

Waiting for my connecting flight in Frankfurt, I chat with a very nice Tunisian lady whose husband is Belgian. She informs me that Belgium is shit, “there’s nothing to see there”, and its people are boring. Haha. I yote.

I think of how truly unprepared I am as sleep keeps escaping my numerous attempts to catch it. It is 7pm my time, 3am local time. Four more hours caged in this metal bird. What I want to do right now is sleep. Or sing harmonies. Or write a poem. What I don’t want to do is watch the end of X-Men Dark Phoenix. I hate planes.

SONG CREDITS: Chicago – Sufjan Stevens


I do not count the songs we sung
As wasted breath
Sitting with you
Lost in a crowded square

Icy splashes dampen your heavy jacket
Whoever thought it was a good idea
To have fountains running in November
Can come talk to me

My numb fingers close on yours
You make these moments
Some kind of magic


Nightmares are made of your thick grey smoke and your gridlocked streets
Stinking of bloated rotting money
Paralyzed by white hypocrisy
Tarp-covered holes where windows roofs walls should be
Your genocidal kings adorn
Dark tunnels and deserted squares
Flickering flames honor
Forgotten men slaughtered for the crown
Under the stinging rain
The shivering rain
The beating rain
The heavy wind drowns out the memory
Of the flesh that haunts you
Grease running down the pavement
Old as sin
Fresh as the beer flooding your veins
Tongues and lips biting out guttural harmonies
Accented cries falling on tone-deaf ears
Ugly and scarred from a sprawling concrete cancer
Rising from the ashes of your splendid past
Poor like the dirt
Poor like a shriveled heart
Poor like a homeless man writing poems on scraps of paper
In the neon alleys of your swarming underbelly

I fought with all the life left in my body to come back to you
Lost in a country that would never call itself mine
I balled up my last shreds of hope and hurled it at your swelling putrid heart
You took it, let me sink into you like molten copper
Lonely town
I took my first free breath in the middle of your labyrinth and was reborn
You are the strength in my limbs the breath in my lungs the sun in my smiles the despair in my soul

I have missed you like I missed my skin

Incomparable mess horrible hateful impossible city

I love you

Winter diaries

It feels like the tail end of winter, like the hard part is over. It feels. But it’s not true. Time is a circle and it’s barely mid-February. But two days of sun feel like more hope than I’ve got since the beginning of the year. People in parks, streets, squares, terraces. Making music, drinking, hanging. It’s like the outside’s in color again, like music is made of sounds. Polarize has meaning, infused directly into my bones. Brussels is my oyster.

Villo and Lime don’t want me but my legs will push me through. I sit cross-legged at the Vismet and drown my home-made pistolet au salami in unintelligible Flemish. Still in Vismet, I find a forceful bout of sunshine to help me draw Miles Morales. Brussels lives around me.

I rock out to my phone and walk and walk and walk and barely stop for coffee. It is gross how much I am one with this city. Lonely fucking town, I love your tourists and your hills and your hard edges and waiting eight minutes for a metro. The moon is out over the Cinquantenaire. Nothing scares me.