Tokyo in Jetlag
There are only two choices. Adjust, and survive. Or give in to the lulls of jet lag and prepare to roam the B-side of Tokyo. I opt for the latter. Cringing from the morning sun, I sip the first coffees of the day in the early afternoons and find solace in the darkest hours of the night. In the slipstream between midnight and dawn, I exist for three weeks in a parallel universe with its own mysterious glamour.
Part I. The Bewildering Incident of the Hanami Hunt
Somewhere after wine, Negronis and 3am, we track down a cabbie and directions are offered in broken-Japanese by the three mademoiselles sitting backseat. As we drive towards the darkened back alleys of Nakameguro, the Londoner with the suspiciously French lilt keeps tussling my hair and the cabbie steals confused glances at me, “Who are these people?”
Social dignity keeps him silent.
Our destination is a desolate alley. Fortunately the New Zealander with a guarded smile is in the know - up a flight of stairs through an unmarked door. Inside, I take in my bewildering context from my seat on the distressed leather sofa. A cherry blossom tree sits mid space and all the lighting has been coloured red, throwing eerie rouge shadows.
Meanwhile, I try not to be too disturbed by the life sized white tiger motif staring me down. The Israeli blonde sits beside me to catch up on our Tel Aviv memories but despite the warm nostalgia and smiles, I cannot help but notice that the tree seems intent on swallowing us into the sinister clutches of her spread out branches.
Very “Kill Bill.”
Its presence pervades the course for the following few hours. Later, dawning on dawn, my three companions and I unexpectedly chance across Meguro-gawa. Normally a nightmare of drunken youths, photographers and tourists by day, the famed cherry blossoms along the river kiss the pale-blue morning light in solitude. Besides us, their only audience is an old gentleman on his morning walk gazing at the petals. Perhaps the crisp stillness in the air pushed away our fuzzy exhaustion - we too stand spellbound in the purity of the moment.
Physical desires eventually take effect and the breakfast hunt is on. Rumour is: the upscale hotels of Tokyo serve a frighteningly spectacular breakfast so in the name of American pancakes, scrambled eggs and bacon, we put in an appearance at the Okura Hotel Lobby where the night porter suggests we take a stroll whilst we wait for the restaurant to open.
“You walk straight and left. And there is koh-en with hanami! Yes. You must go and then you come back. Restaurant will open.”
We manage despite the vague directions. The cascading gardens witness the four of us scaling over locked fences. Serenely alone at the base of still-empty skyscrapers devoid of any salarymen, our bleary eyes and cherry blossoms both witness a perfect Tokyo sunrise.
Part II. Trapped
In this dense maze called Tokyo, concrete and glass defines the confines. They follow no rules, each to their own aesthetic. Come nightfall, they morph into rivers of neon. Telephone lines spider-web the skies, streaming 4G data without a pause. An ironically human-planted jungle gone wild invades the frame. It’s an Alice in Wonderland abduction. We submit, weave through and swarm into public squares and underground tunnels. It’s a heart pounding pace running day and night, unstoppable. And once tasted, will pull you under its spell and most likely drive you eventually insane.
Part III. A Solitary Drink and an Ode to Leaving
The lights of Azabu-Juban district wink down to a mere three. Who are they? - I wonder pointlessly. Hyper aware of the clock annoyingly ticking close to 3am, I'm clueless of how long I’ve stared out the window. Even the red-lit apartment directly across – either a darkroom or serving far shadier purposes - has gone dark.
One might reason that the wise and only course of action would be to follow suit and tuck under covers. Unbeknown however to the populous of tourists and normal humans, there exists a disgusting plethora of bars, from classy to trashy, that officially keep drinks in clients’ hands until 5 in the morning. As such, and appropriately attired in darkness from head to toe, I head out to the nearby Spade Bar.
As pretentious as the establishment sounds, the interior is Japanese minimal with just enough of a luxurious touch to keep it delicately elegant. The amicable two-man team behind the bar is expert on anything from wines to the finest whiskeys and any measure of cocktails.
I’ve found over the years that I’m rather keen on sitting alone at a bar. Companions have their time and place, but to be alone with your thoughts, moments of inner reflection are worth guarding. Especially in a Japanese context. Besides, as Ann Friedman writes: “It’s a low-stakes lesson in independence and composure.”
So, wiping my hands on the hot towel provided - one of the enduring cultural details of Japan - I take to swirling my Hibiki 17. Occasionally the bartend makes small talk, and takes the liberty of refilling my drink. Miles is softly playing and a black and white projection reels away on the wall.
Hours later, when I bid the crew a good night, the bartend personally accompanies me down to the street. In a country still steeped in custom and honour, I receive a series of low bows after which he stands at attention with hands folded behind his back. Turning the street corner, I glance back to see him still at his post with his head turned skyward, welcoming the dawn.