We get many things from our parents in our lifetimes – from the fundamental life support systems that they bring us into the world with to the prejudices that they pass on to us. They sometimes also pass on the lessons that they learn from their own lives.
He saw me off at Heathrow when I first left for Japan and those words rang in my ears. Upon arrival, with everything around me shiny, alien and new, I noted all that I saw, observed or became curious by.
These first impressions became ‘Deep Ends’, the article below. It was also the first time that I ever received a payment for any of my writings, which was a most pleasant experience even though it amounted to roughly £15 (not a great sum by any stretch).
The article appeared in a publication called ‘Tokyo Notice Board‘, a mostly classified ads rag that would pretty much publish anything written in English about Tokyo and Japan (we all have to start somewhere!). I also had the additional pleasure of seeing something I’d written, again for the first time, translated into another language.
Rereading it, in the place that I currently call home and have pretty solidly settled into now, I realise that some of these first impressions have become my firm and standard lines about how I feel about this place. It’s funny now though to compare how I felt about the place at first with how natural it feels now!
Just goes to show…wherever you lay your hat, after a while that’s your home…
At the grand old age of 32 and with barely a trace of preparation or idea what on earth I’m doing or going to do here, I’ve gone and thrown myself into Tokyo. England had become stale for me. So, for want of something else to do, I dropped myself into the last major urban conurbation in the Northern Hemisphere – before the vast sprawl of the Pacific gets under way and the International Date Line starts the loop of time on the planet all over again on another day.
There is rather a ‘last great city on earth’ feeling about it. The creation of this place makes for quite some achievement in the annals of human endeavour. In true volcanic style, Tokyo seems to have started as an ominous urban swelling that then burst forth, throwing up buildings that dwarf even the imagination and truly scrape the sky, with neon and lighting that sear the retinas as one flits past, and such a hugely vast sprawl of people which defy the scale of exposures to previous big cities. It feels like one could spend a number of lifetimes just wandering the myriad of Tokyo main drags, side streets and back alleys, just staring at stuff as the new sights and sounds fill up the mind as a barman would a beer glass.
Whilst not quite the melting pot of a London or a New York – foreigners very definitely stand out here, and for a boy raised on the multiculturalist traditions of the West’s urban hotspots, it feels surprisingly homogeneic for a city of so many people – Tokyo nevertheless makes up for it in different ways, including with its sheer scale of numbers. It should be acknowledged that this is most definitely not somewhere one should choose if opting for a quiet life.
So, why am I here? How come I’ve found myself in this place, of all the places in the world that I could have chosen, when the language can’t even be guessed at? Why, when I was starting to feel a little of the wearying of the years in my bones, come to somewhere that waking up and leaving the house can have the impact of staring into the nozzle end of a garden hose and getting someone to turn the tap on when you are likely to be least expecting it?
I suppose that if you are going to set yourself a challenge, it might as well be one that is going to stretch you. After all, what point progress if baby steps are only ever taken over giant steps? Armstrong’s fears could have kept him in the capsule. It is far better a story to tell to say ‘Hey, sure I moonwalked!’ than ‘Damn, I got there and then bottled it’. And sometimes you just have to tell yourself that you’ve always managed to float or even swim before when out of your depth, so why not this time?