I can feel the damp of that late-evening heat. It made my skin glisten as I stood shoulder to shoulder on the balcony of a Tokyo hotel with my fiance, an espresso martini chilling my fingertips. Below, the East Gardens of the Imperial Palace sprawled in the darkness, bats swooped above the trees and warm August rain began to plop between the leaves. Wrapped in cool silk gowns, we stood in silence watching Shinjuku’s lights strobe and wink across the city. The soundless vision betrayed the roar of life below: gloved teens playing solo dance games in arcades, late-night shoppers clutching bags and bubble tea, drinkers doing shots in Golden Gai, friends paying for ramen at vending machines, and lovers kissing by the light of red lanterns.
This was five years ago, our first time in Japan, a place I had delayed visiting until I’d met the person with whom I wanted to make those memories. Like many I had bought into Sofia Coppola’s soft-focus illusion of the country (in her 2003 film Lost In Translation) as a kaleidoscope of karaoke, cat cafes and mad crossings, but I quickly realised her film was a reductionist insult.
Japan is no more alien or exotic than any country as seen through the eyes of those who don’t live there. It’s brazenly beautiful, exuding confidence and self-assurance. It grabs you by the hand, pulling you from the sidelines and forcing you to dance.
Three weeks was barely enough time to scratch the surface, and as I stood on that balcony staring into the night I was already starting to miss it. There were so many doors to walk through, streets to cross, bars to dive into, corners to turn, alleys to wander down, people to brush past, smoke to inhale, sashimi to taste, buttons to press, trainers to try on, metros to ride, matcha to sip, and gardens to stroll through…
And now, as I sit in my slippers in my London flat, I can’t imagine doing any of those things. The vision freezes then shatters into shards. But one day, when we have built a new way of life, our new normal, I can glue those shards together and begin to plan my return journey with my husband and daughters. Until then, I can but sit in my slippers and hope.