Joe in Japan

Joe had to get away for awhile. In one sense, he was very confused about life. In another, he knew exactly what to do. Though Tokyo was an even more extreme version of New York City, where he resided, he had long been attracted to it, thanks, in part, to his anime appreciation. He also needed a sharper contrast to his daily reality. Something that would wake him from the coma he seemed to fall into after college, when the world didn’t appear quite as full of promise anymore.

He timed the getaway rather strategically, whether he was fully aware of it or not. It was the day before an apocalyptic inauguration and four days before his twenty-fifth birthday. In short, being in America simply wasn’t advisable at this juncture. From the outset of his journey, it was apparent he was going to quite nicely embody both Scarlett Johansson and Billy Murray in Lost in Translation. His embarkation into the Japan Airlines portion of Terminal 1 immediately made him stick out like a sore thumb, a sea of Japanese people forcing him to be awash amid his own singular Americanness. He relished this feeling. For the first time maybe ever, he wouldn’t be the majority, and it would give him, he prayed, the perspective he had long been seeking. He tried diligently to immerse himself in all things Japanese before leaving, his final immersion therapy being the purchase of a ticket to Ocean Waves at IFC two nights before he left. Still, nothing could truly prepare him for being there. The energy, the freneticism. The sheer weirdness. Or maybe it was far more normal by comparison to what he’d been enduring of late: the day to day banality of existing. The constant sameness in surroundings and routine. And while, yes, there could be a certain William Carlos Williams sort of beauty to this, Joe was somehow getting the distinct impression that his youth was slipping away, and he wasn’t taking advantage of it as he should. Perhaps it was the fear that turning twenty-five instills in a lot of people who presumed they’d never have adult worries. That it couldn’t really happen to them, all cozy in their eighteen to twenty-four bubble. In Joe’s case, his post-college job was merely supposed to be an experiment, a dabbling in adulthood before pursuing his real passion, filmmaking. Of late, however, he was getting the sense that this was his life now, and the more he tried to fight it, the more those around him tried to put the kibosh on his dreams of a non-politicking existence. It is, alas, as the old Japanese proverb goes, “The stake that sticks up gets hammered down.” Joe was starting to stick up in the workplace, and this, too, prompted his seemingly out of the blue escape. But he knew there was something to be said for disappearing for a bit–it made people appreciate you more, see you as all shiny and new again when you returned.

Upon arriving at the Haneda airport, his GoPro strapped to his body should any unexpected inspiration or narrative arise, Joe felt a vague sense of familiarity–like he was visiting New York’s more polite but equally as bombastic brother. Joe’s own persona mirrored many aspects of the Japanese: he was modest and often lacking in self-confidence, a trait that he was beginning to shake with age. Nonetheless, he felt it his duty as a culturally attuned tourist to partake in karaoke at least once. It wasn’t really his preferred activity, the top of his list being populated by a list of movie theaters, video game emporiums, museums and restaurants serving American food (he wanted to see what the Japanese’s take was on the cuisine, after all). Regardless, karaoke was just as much an integral part of Japanese heritage as sumo wrestling (he would need to attend a match by the way, adding to his increasingly daunting list). Indeed, karaoke is attributed to bringing an entire generation of Japanese people a newfound sense of forwardness and self-acceptance, as most were previously only comfortable participating in group activities that didn’t put any emphasis on “the self”–truly an antithetical concept to most narcissistic American forms of entertainment. Singing in a group–some karaoke bars even offer rooms that accommodate up to one hundred people–thus, has quite literally forced the Japanese to take centerstage. And take this stage would Joe as well, opting for Karaoke Kan (it was only right to sing “Brass in Pocket” by The Pretenders) to pay his respects to Sofia Coppola’s location scouting.

Though hungover the next day, Joe still found it essential to go to Shinjuku 8bit Cafe, a mecca for video gaming in its Super Mario heyday. He brought along a new friend he had made in the hostel where he was staying. His name was Riccardo, a 23-year-old from Rome who came to visit because he was considering a drastic move, to a place that could offer him no shortage of graphic design jobs. Like New York, Tokyo is extremely alcohol-centric. As such, even a video game-themed cafe like Shinjuku 8bit expects one to imbibe while he plays. Joe, not one for renouncing throwing himself completely into a vacation, didn’t refuse the many beers Riccardo kept buying for him. By the end of the night, he found himself wandering the streets alone, unsure exactly of what had happened to Riccardo–though he imagined he went home with the garden variety cute Japanese girl that had joined their table at some point a few hours back. Unsure of how to get back to his hostel, Joe happened into a different bar, the only open business in the alley he meandered into.

As it turned out, the bar was called The Lock Up, and offered its patrons a very committed prison theme. The bartender wouldn’t even address Joe’s question about directions until he agreed to be handcuffed to the bar. But that was the last thing he remembered before waking up in the basement of a food market. He shrugged, looked under his shirt and breathed a sigh of relief that the GoPro was still there. He could figure out what happened based on the memories of his camera. It would be somehow realer that way. Living his experience through a screen had always felt more satisfying. Some might call it Andy Warhol Syndrome, others an inability to enjoy the present until it had already slipped by.

With his birthday now a day away, Joe could sense a change afoot, one almost cataclysmic in nature. Yet all he had room for was calmness. To match this serenity were the unexpectedly non-choppy waters of Tokyo Bay, sweeping him away on a ferry to Yokohama, where he would spend his initiation into twenty-five in the Sankei-en gardens, a peaceful place to come to terms with whatever his future might hold.

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