Feeling Tokyo’s pulse

The first feeling that comes back to me as I enter Japan is the constant humidity. It had escaped from my memories but it all flows back quickly: how it permeates my lungs, embalms my entire body. And how we’re right in the middle of this period, when it’s too warm during the day to wear a pullover, but just too fresh at night to avoid carrying one around.

The second feeling is that Tokyo is alive. Not as in filled with living beings, but as in the actual city lives, like an ant colony from whose tireless workers emerges a higher, macroscopic presence.

I don’t see people living in the city, but rather people contributing their existence to the city’s life. It feels as if the city was too enormous for them to impose their individuality, leaving them with no choice but to add their own personal touch to the ambient culture; a culture based on communautary diversity, not individual uniqueness.

This is only possible because Tokyo is not merely a place for work, entertainment, and other utilitarian processes. It’s a complete environment to live in: eat, shop, go out, work, have fun, or even sleep and have sex. It occupies a central place in its inhabitants lives, a substitute for what we elsewhere would call “home”. But what do you call home if you sleep in a tiny flat, far away, with only minimal domestic accessories? Then the house becomes a transitory annex and the communautary space of the city a home, a thematic playground, a shared setting for intimacy, both infinite and personal.

In fact, it even has a voice: talking elevators and vending machines, melodies for each station on the Yamanote train line, teams of shop assistants yelling to attract customers in Akihabara, the choir of ads broadcasted day and night on giant screens above Shibuya crossing, or the deafening cacophony bursting out of pachinko parlors and receding, as the doors slide open and closed.

However the strongest manifestation of Tokyo’s presence to date came as I watched the deep, urban breath of Shinjuku, its gigantic skyscrapers erected towards the ever grey night sky, unreal structures on a hill above the infinite landscape of lower buildings. An eery vision from the balcony of my Swedish friend Martin, brewing the steady, undeniable realization that I am back in Japan.

Shinjuku breathing at night
Shinjuku breathing at night