My heavy feet dragged their way through Tokyo Narita Airport, my brain was still somewhere over the Pacific Ocean – in the plane’s bathroom where I mistook the mouthwash for soap and scrubbed my hands with it – and would hopefully catch up with me later. It had been a long flight and the free Singapore Slings seemed like a good idea at the time and why is this soap burning my hands?
“Konbanwa!” The lady behind the front desk said as I walked through the automatic doors. “Konbanwa!” I repeated back to her like a drunk parrot. I hath not known what I said, nor where I was. I squinted under the bright lights and nodded while she spoke words I would never understand. Then she bowed and handed me a locker key and a bag containing slippers, a tooth brush, and a giant grey night shirt. She placed her pointer finger to her lips, then to a door with a “quiet, please” sign on it. I bowed back to her, opened the door and entered the future.
No one spoke a word to each other as we shuffled from the fluorescent white bathroom to the long white hallway, in our matching slippers and oversized night shirts. Did I join a cult? If it wasn’t for those earlier signs of intelligent life, I would have thought this place was deserted. The immaculate counters looked like the first snowfall, untouched and glistening. Not a single trace was left behind by the temporary inhabitants, not even a bobby pin.
I made my way down the empty corridor, half expecting a tumble weed to blow by – don’t be ridiculous Meredith, there’s no wind in space – and opened the door to the capsule room. It took a second for my eyes to adjust to the darkness, but once they did, I still couldn’t believe them. Rows and rows of glowing yellow pods, stacked on top of each other like giant honey combs, stretched out in front of me.
I followed the numbers on the floor to my pod. 16, 17, 18…where’s 19? I looked up to see a glowing number 19 on the top row. Great. I took a deep breath, put one foot on the tiny baby ladder and began to climb my very own Everest. Just when I was about to crawl into the pod, I lost my footing, ate it so hard down the ladder, and hit my body against the lower pods. A collective “Shhhhhhhh!” echoed throughout the capsule. “Shhhhhhhiitttt!” I yelled. Houston, we have a problem.
After making friends with the entire capsule, I took a minute to recover before climbing the ladder again, incident free this time. I snuggled into the human bento box and listened to the sound of simulated breathing coming from the tiny speaker next to my pillow. *Panic* “WHO’S THERE!?” I yelled at no one before realizing where the breathing came from. Me go night night now.
My alarm went off early the next morning. I rubbed my sleepy eyes open and – why am I in a MRI? Am I dead? I felt around the dark pod for a light and images of an endless white hallway, and me falling from a ladder flashed through my mind. Shit, I fell off a ladder and died. *Panic* How am I going to tell my parents? Shit. I can’t tell my parents because I’m dead. *PANIC * I flicked on a light switch and looked around my tiny pod. Nope, not dead, just alone. “One pea in a pod,” I joked to myself. Very alone.
This little pea eventually left the quiet of her pod and went out into the great, big, noisey Land of the Rising Sun. Still alone, but that’s okay, because some peas are introverts and really like being alone. In fact, they need to be alone. This doesn’t mean they don’t like other peas, it means they need space from them. So please, just let them have their pea time, okay?
That being said, after spending the entire day getting on wrong trains, pressing wrong buttons on toilets, and saying the wrong thing (Fun Fact: “Morning” in Japanese is “Ohio,” not “Omaha” ). I was dying for a familiar face and a good belly laugh. And there is no one who makes me laugh harder than Ian.
I sprinted down the hostel’s stairs to the lobby the second I got his text. “Ian!” I screamed like a mom who finally found her lost kid in a grocery store. There he was, overwhelmed and overheating, waiting for me at the front desk. He wore the long trek from the airport to the hostel on his flushed face. We ordered beer and sausages to celebrate our arrival, because nothing says “Authentic Japanese” like sausages, then it was off to Golden Gai to drink away our jet lag.
We followed the little, blue Google Maps dot through a labyrinth of graffiti covered alleys. The kind of alleys where you will either find a dead body or become one. But instead, you find a maze of neon micro bars packed with drunk salary men. We made a quick karaoke pit stop, where Ian serenaded me with Shania Twain’s Man I Feel Like A Woman while I sipped on vodka sodas from a bartender wearing a medical face mask. It wasn’t long before we found two barstools with our names on them in a tiny Irish Pub…because nothing says “Authentic Japanese” like a miniature Irish Pub.
This Irish closet would have been spacious for Harry Potter, but I couldn’t physically pull down my pants to pee without my bare ass gently grazing the washroom door. Allow me to explain. You see, this bathroom was so tiny that in order to pull down my pants I had to face the toilet and bend over it: where I got a nice, cold surprise when my ass proceeded to make contact with the bathroom door. Then, with my pants wrapped around my ankles and my pride on the floor, I shuffled around to face the door. Rather, face on door. Because that is what my face pressed against as I hovered over the toilet. Man, I feel like a woman.
I gotta give props to the Japanese though. They are extremely gifted at utilizing space. I mean they were able to turn a cubby and my worst nightmare into a bathroom. Respect.
“Kanpai!” we cheered our pints of Asahi, cold beer running down my hand and onto the elbows of tipsy white collars. We lost track of time and our beverages, not sure which one first, and stayed at the Irish pub a little longer and one more drink. It was nearing half past one in the morning when we finally peeled our – fully clothed – asses off the wooden stools.
The little blue dot led us through the buzzing Shinjinku streets. There were no stars to be seen that night, only neon screens that lit up the sky and dilated our pupils. Google Maps knew where we were, so that made one of us. If only Google Maps could find the common sense we lost when we attempted to tandem bike to the Tsukiji fish market at 2 a.m.
It was fate that we stumbled upon that dimly lit BikeShare tucked away in a quiet neighbourhood. So naturally I shoved 2000 Japanese Yen into the cryptic machine without any hesitation, or thought for that matter. We then spent the next half hour trying to shake the bikes out of their bolted, concrete stands. Breaking out of Guantanamo Bay would have been easier than setting those bikes free. We did manage to get one bike out with the help of a very kind and very patient Japanese family who happened to walk by as we cursed at inanimate objects. Sadly, our efforts, which included several Google Translate fails, a convoluted game of charades, and a phone call to the BikeShare Gods, fell by the wayside when the bike’s wheels refused to move. Because there was a hidden lock on them and we can’t read Japanese. Bye.
We counted our losses and ducked our heavy heads into the back seat of a cab. And before you could say “we missed the famous tuna auction by 15 minutes,” we arrived at the market, where we missed the famous tuna auction by 15 minutes. Whatever, tuna auction, you can go fish yourself.
The auction may have been full, but we certainly weren’t and neither was the 24 hour sushi restaurant a few steps away. “Engrish?” a server asked, pointing to a menu with glossy photos of perfect rolls. “Engrish,” I heard myself reply. I had, apparently, forgotten how to speak. Basic motor skills were the second to go, when I dropped every single piece of sushi my chopsticks touched, each roll crash landing into the soy sauce dish. Ian sat to the right of my soy sauce tsunami, he had been chewing the same bite of sashimi for ten minutes. We looked at each other’s red faces and erupted into a fit of uncontrollable giggles. Ian continued to chew as tears rolled down my cheeks from laughter and also because the wasabi was hotter than the centre of a dying star.
Soy sauce, dirty napkins, and regret littered our table like a sushi crime scene. The chef, crouching in his fighter like stance over colourful slabs of fish, stopped what he was doing and stared at us in disbelief. I tried to apologize for our behaviour but was too busy chewing the same piece of sashimi Ian warned me about. I spent a solid two minutes gnawing that piece, before I spit it into a napkin and put it in my pocket. Which I’m pretty sure is a federal offence in Japan. Ian witnessed the whole thing, but his eyes met mine with understanding, not judgement and we laughed until our stomachs ached.
The Tokyo night welcomed us onto its streets once again; our dusty shoes clacked along the dark pavement in search of the nearest subway station. A metal garage door greeted us at the station’s entrance; the clock above the door read 4:45 a.m. but I was beginning to realize that didn’t matter anymore. The garage door slowly lifted to reveal an empty station. I couldn’t believe it. We were the only ones there. No escalators lined with commuters, no ticket queues, no one at all. The silence lasted one stop, before the first subway car of the day was packed full of Izakaya (Japanese gastropub) leftovers swaying in their seats and three piece zombies heading to work. It was Saturday.
For a supposed nation of introverts it seems impossible to be truly alone in this neon jungle. Yet, the Japanese Government is legitimately worried about not having enough Japanese people. When you have one of the World’s highest life expectancy rates and one of the lowest birthrates, the combination results in, well, not a lot of Japanese people by 2060. Forty million less than there is now to be exact. I guess the statisticians and Japanese Government have never been inside a Tokyo train station.
Because every place in a train station has a person, so it doesn’t get lonely, of course. But I often wondered about the people in those places. The quiet ones who find solace in their minds amongst the chaos of the crowd. They have a place, but do they have a person? I looked over at Ian, dozing off in the seat across from me, there was mine.