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