Tokyo Day 3 – Just finished to build my wings

I spent a lot of time thinking about this and trying to make sense of how I feel – about this trip, about home, about myself. The thing is, Tokyo is probably not the city for me. Japan is certainly not the country for me. It is founded on order and the collective and I’m all about chaos and big personalities creating communities. Chaos here is subtly controlled. There’s something stoic about the people that I find fascinating and that reminds me of my second home. But there’s no spark of total insanity behind it. I miss Cambodia.

So anyway, I am not vibing with the place. It is not love at first sight. Though I adore all the little Honda motorbikes (SuperCubs and Dreams, two-wheeled loves of my life) in pristine condition I see everywhere, and it feels easy walking through these giant streets swarming with people, it’s not the rollercoaster of emotions I was expecting. And that’s fine. Some places I do not need to long for.

But I’m getting better at understanding how things work and paying with coins and being curious about what’s going on behind the polish. And I wish I was a little braver and went into restaurants and stayed out later and tried more things. I just don’t know what things. Yet.

I do miss my friends, my people, my souls too. But I think it is getting easier to be on my own. I can do this.

SONG CREDITS: Gang Gang Schiele – Hyukoh

Tokyo Day 2 – Walk walk fashion baby

Anxiety! It spikes through my body in waves, like a bad trip. I am filled with a low hum of anxiety about this trip all the time, because I am alone in a foreign country and it would be crazy not to. But this particular anxiety pertains to the real life that is waiting for me at home, the things I tried to avoid by coming here. I wish I didn’t have to face these things, but maybe now is exactly the right time, with some distance, weighed down by jetlag. Negative stuff doesn’t just go away because you ignore it. It will take me all my life to learn that lesson. Facing difficult things head on is… not my strong suit.

Anyway, who has time for that crap when you’ve got Harajuku to discover? I bought a red, lolita-adjacent flowy dress especially for this, and goddammit I’m gonna wear the crap out of it.

Harajuku: an odd mix of big avenues piled high with pricey brands Vuitton-Dior-Chanel-whatever, imposing malls and winding alleys full of designer stores and select thrift shops.

The subway takes me directly to Takeshita-dori: the belly of the beast. The sun is out today, the city is vibrant and full, this particular fervor I understand. Steep stairs lead to skull-adorned shops where they sell necklaces with tiny silver locks…. you know the ones. My Nana-loving heart bleeds. Rainbow-colored cotton candy, cream filled crepes, rad pumps and platform shoes so high they would bring you to tears. Takeshita-dori doesn’t disappoint.

I walk the slightly more chill avenues and streets of Otome-sando, enjoying this flirty little thing we’ve got going on, the sun and I. Slight wardrobe mishap: the wind loves to play with my flowy dress, which, by definition, flows. I hold on to my dress Marilyn-style every two seconds and pray I’m not actually flashing anyone.

At Laforet, I find vegan ramen. Vegan! Ramen! Three cheers for food. Well-fed and with renewed energy, I head to a vintage thrift store, get totally lost on the way there, end up strolling through the tiny streets of a residential neighbourhood, sunny and quiet. This is so nice. I take advantage of the quiet to turn up the music.

But like all fireworks and all sunsets we all burn in different ways: you are a fast explosion, I’m the embers

Google Maps points me in the right direction and while night falls, I head to Akihabara, temple of otaku culture, according to the guide. Well, okay. It is brightly colored and imposing. Okay. There are manga and gaming shops. Cool. I’m freezing in my flowy dress and there’s nothing charming about this place. Also, my feet hurt. I head back to the hostel.

That evening, I get a call from my dad. He’s in the south of Laos, getting ready to cross over to the Dark Side (aka Cambodia). We spend a few minutes shitting all over the French: family traditions.

I’ve got museum tickets for tomorrow and a brand new Harajuku sweater to show off. Life is good.

SONG CREDITS : Nightingale/December Song – Sunset Rubdown

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