My Tokyo

My Tokyo isn't just about tall buildings; it's about small shrines and temples, too.

I took a run this morning, and of course, listened to a podcast.  This one was on the Selected Shorts show – it was an essay by Colson Whitehead (author of 2009’s Sag Harbor and Zone One which comes out next week) called “Lost and Found.”  The entire essay focused on New York city, and how each person recreates the city for his or herself. He gives examples like the dry cleaner on the corner or the favorite Chinese food place that has closed or moved, and how it will forever be the spot you remember as the dry cleaner or Chinese restaurant, no matter what else might move into that space.  He discusses how the city knows you like no other person on earth – only the city has seen you alone.  It sees you spit gum into a bush. It sees you flinch when  drop of water drips out of a window air-conditioner onto your head.  It has seen you on your midnight ice-cream run when no one else has.  Whitehead mentions the Twin Towers, and how they exist in “his” New York, but for the new New Yorker who is just moving into the city from somewhere else, his or her New York will contain the specter of “Ground Zero” while someone moving to the city, or coming to awareness in the city, in five years might have a new building on that very site as part of “his or her” New York.  Whitehead speaks of New York City so reverently, and notes that once a person has lived there, they never truly live anywhere else.  It’s a beautiful piece, and it was read by the incomparable Alec Baldwin, so the whole experience of listening was a treat.

I feel similarly about “my” Tokyo.  Oh, I admit that my Tokyo isn’t the same as a Japanese person’s.  But then again, it isn’t the same as any other expat’s Tokyo either.  My Tokyo includes the little shrine on the hill where they ring sets of bells around 6am every morning.  My Tokyo includes the adorable security guard who works at the wedding chapel down the street from me every weekend and never fails to bow and say “Konichiwa” to me.  My Tokyo has the memory of the Mediterranean food restaurant that used to be down the hill from my house and is no longer in existence, but the building remains and that’s how I think of it.  My Tokyo contains several hairpin turns on streets that have no business being two-way.

What’s great about living in a large, dynamic city that lives and breathes is that My Tokyo is always changing.  Since I’m working now, I’ve learned of new restaurants that are near the school.  I’ve gotten a bicycle, which has changed my point of view of the city immensely. It’s all part of the process, it seems.

What about you? What about “your” city?  I love the idea that yours is different from mine, and I’d love to hear about how you feel about it.

2 thoughts on “My Tokyo

  1. I have a different take on that as a reader/writer, a gamer, and an active dreamer. Most of my writing is contemporary fantasy, so I’ll take a city I know reasonably well (like Worcester, MA) and have specific concrete details, and then “soft spots” where there is a gate to faery or a building that’s really an illusion. I read a lot of fiction like that, which covers New York (a perennial favorite), LA, Atlanta, Boston, etc. I watch TV where shows are supposed to take place in a “real” location… and I’ll see the “flyover” shot of “Worcester, MA” on _Fringe_, and say… “No, no, that’s really Hartford, CT.” But in a book, I don’t mind it so much if I recognize the Springfield Quad has, all of a sudden, appeared in Worcester. Or some Very Important Building has been changed in Atlanta.

    I do that a lot in gaming, too. A current game I play in takes place around the Boston area, with familiar landscapes and landmarks… but we do a lot of fudging to simplify play and get to the point of the plot.

    Lastly, I’ve lived in Madrid for some months, but I return there in my dreams. I’m well aware that the Madrid I “remember” in dreams is significantly different than the one I visited. Yet, both are “Madrid.” They are both “My Madrid.”

    Just like for books I’ve fallen in love with, stories I’ve written, those versions of my favorite , of familiar cities inspire how I define and view the city, so “My Worcester” has a whole lot of things different than the actual city of Worcester–things that never were and likely never will be–but that live in my head as part of “my” city. When I pass a spot where a fey haven might be, for example, in a story, I “recognize” it as such in my head, and as I’m finding my way around the city.

    So… as a fantasist, in particular, whatever city I’m in always comes in its own personalized version. 🙂

  2. My Tokyo is Yushima, and Ueno Park, and all the things about those places that were the same during my visit in March, 2008 as they were when I lived next to Yushima Tenjin in 1987 and 1988. My Tokyo will be whatever changes I see in April, 2012, when I return for a month to walk the old streets of memory and see what kind of new memories form. My Tokyo is a fevre dream of light and independence and wonder and self-invention, a fevre dream that has endured in the mind an older man who became what he is today living in Tokyo right after university at the age of 23.

    My Tokyo is the most satisfying and enriching solitude I have ever known, amongst the most secretly good-hearted people I have ever met.My Tokyo pulls me like evidence that I lived a past life there. My Tokyo is a Canadian woman whom I am glad turned down my marriage proposal, and a Japanese office girl who perhaps wanted a proposal that would never come.

    My Tokyo is complex and wild and always waiting for me in my mind, in my heart, and perhaps in the physical part of the second half of my life.

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