August 18 2009
What is it about wondering through cities at night that makes you feel like you own the world?
Perhaps it was because I was about to embark on the most adventurous adventure I had ever had that made me all the more euphoric as I walked the streets of Morioka in the dark waiting for my midnight bus. I don’t know, but I find being a stranger in the dark of a foreign city is one of the most uplifting experiences. There’s something so liberating about walking streets that aren’t yours and having a distance from all the other lives around you. You don’t belong there. You are free to choose who to be and how to be. It’s empowering to have the opportunity to see all these different ways of living and not really have to subscribe to any just yet but just take the time to look and learn and in the meantime be a complete mystery to all those around you. Some people have come here with the idea that they want to belong and be included and complain about the impermeable nature of Japanese society but, as I argue, we are not, nor will we ever be native and however bicultural and bilingual we get, we will always stand out. So why fight it? Enjoy the fact that there is freedom in our viewpoint; we can observe, but never really have to commit, we can be welcomed, but with sympathetic understanding that we are western and so will probably get it all wrong. I’m not saying then that you should screw up, but just that there is space for us in the fact that we can and rather than resent that space, hell, I’m going to enjoy it!
That was my mood as I whiled away the hours until my bus. Once I boarded said bus I wished I could do my nomad bit in a more comfortable fashion and perhaps figure out a way to un-belong to the laws of paying for stuff…alas the search continues! So, a bazillion back-aching, leg-jumping hours later and I rock up at Tokyo station, prise my self out of my horrifically uncomfortable seat and stumble into the craziest place known to man. Well it was like waking up after been in a coma! It was busy, there were shops, there were cafes, there were news-stands.
There were bagels.
Now I don’t know if you can really appreciate the immeasurable happiness that a bagel can evoke in the heart of a bagel-starved person who happens to love bagels, but I tell you, it is quite something. And as I sat in a cool café with cream cheese dribbling down the side of a hot bit of holey bread in one hand and a giant mug of coffee in the other, I decided Tokyo had me at konnichiwa.
Whilst I was sat there I looked around, there was a western family a few tables away and everyone else was Japanese or Asian at least and everyone that walked past the window too. I guess I thought I would feel less of a novelty here. I liked that I didn’t though. As I glanced back to the family the mother caught my eye and gave me a smile and a quick little wave as if to say she knew what I was thinking, and I can’t really define what it meant, but it meant something. To be mysterious and a minority is liberating and empowering in some respects, but still when something like this happens it brings a lump to my throat. It acknowledges similarity in such a forward way and with such a sincerity that would never be found in my actual home country and reminds me for a second that sometimes it’s nice to be un-mysterious. It made me really happy to think that I was spending three weeks with someone who knew me, who knew I was in no way mysterious but instead a giant goon who has probably used that western space with more liberty than she is aware of. It was nice to think we could adventure, observe and screw-up together. It may be difficult to belong to Japanese society yes, but we will always belong to the western society here, and lets face it, it’s a more welcoming society than the real thing.
As the trip went on and these small interactions continued I started to realise that we do belong, we belong in our united un-belongingness.