2:46: Aftershocks: Stories from the Japan Earthquake
For me, Tokyo was metropolitan love at first sight.
It was 1992, and the government sent me for a language homestay. I got off the Skyliner at Ueno Station from Narita and that was it, I was done for. I could try to tell you why — the energy of the place, its strangeness, the feeling of method to the madness — but really, you might as well try to explain your first crush, your first love, the attraction of a lifelong romance. Whatever you can explain in words won’t quite be it. The real connection is always too deep, too elusive, too mysterious ever to be corralled by language. The words will never get it right.
Still, if you’re in love and you’re a writer, you have to try. You might even create a character, say, a half-Japanese, half-American assassin, to help you:
Tokyo is so vast, and can be so cruelly impersonal, that the succor provided by its occasional oasis is sweeter than that of any other place I’ve known. There is the quiet of shrines like Hikawa, inducing a somber sort of reflection that for me has always been the same pitch as the reverberation of a temple chime; the solace of tiny nomiya, neighborhood watering holes, with only two or perhaps four seats facing a bar less than half the length of a door, presided over by an ageless mama-san, who can be soothing or stern, depending on the needs of her customer, an arrangement that dispenses more comfort and understanding than any psychiatrist’s couch; the strangely anonymous camaraderie of yatai and tachinomi, the outdoor eating stalls that serve beer in large mugs and grilled food on skewers, stalls that sprout like wild mushrooms on dark corners and in the shadows of elevated train tracks, the laughter of their patrons diffusing into the night air like little pockets of light against the darkness without.
At first light, the whole of Shibuya feels like a giant sleeping off a hangover. You can still sense the merriment, the heedless laughter of the night before, you can hear it echoed in the strange silences and deserted spaces of the area’s twisting backstreets. The drunken voices of karaoke revelers, the unctuous pitches of the club touts, the secret whispers of lovers walking arm in arm, all are departed, but somehow, for just a few evanescent hours in the quiet of early morning, their shadows linger, like ghosts who refuse to believe the night has ended, that there are no more parties to attend.
If my books have been love letters to Japan, this one is more an SOS. I’m both proud and humbled to be part of it, to be in a position to reach others who love Japan and long for Japan so together we can give back some of what we’ve received, and do something to help Japan back to her feet.Labels: earthquake, Japan, quakebook, tsunami