I met my friend from Hiroshima, Shinsuke, today. He comes to Tokyo once a month, so I'll get a chance to see him quite a bit. We were only able to meet for a couple of hours, but it was a great time, as usual. We met in Shibuya, the site of the huge crosswalk seen in "Lost in Translation", though neither of us knows it much—I was working there today, so it was the best place to meet. We went to an izakuya—a Japanese pub and my favorite kind of drinking establishment—and talked about friends and "old times." I felt close to Shinsuke from the time I first met him, and everytime we meet that closeness is renewed. The meeting was a good start for my two week vacation.
I decided to jump off the last train home at Kitasenju to walk home and try to get a feel for the city nearest my house. Unfortunately, though, Kitasenju shuts its doors after 1 am, and all that is left are some sketchy characters. Nothing dangerous, but certainly nothing I wanted to be a part of. I had hoped to maybe stop in at a jazz club I'd seen before, but everything near the bar was closed and I felt uncomfortable going as far as the club.
I decided to go home and, while crossing the bridge over the Arakawa, I grasped a feeling that has been sort of haunting me since I got here—I sometimes have a hard time believing in Japan. It is difficult to explain the feeling if you haven't experienced it, but I catch myself sometimes wondering "is this for real? Do people actually live like this?" It was sparked, in this case, by the rather eye-catching semi-trucks crossing the bridge. They look so fake, tiny trucks with neon and flashing lights that matched the traffic cones that blink in the night, that I can't help thinking "those aren't real." But, then, of course, a Japanese person must look at semis in the US and think "god, those things are so ridiculously huge—they can't possibly be real."
I think in the back of my mind some part of me reserves the right to not believe any of this is real, that somehow this has been a big show and one day a Japanese Alan Funt will slap me on the back and tell me it was a vast Truman Show-like joke. I wonder if this is a common feeling among expats. I admit I've felt this way, on a much smaller scale, in Georgia, in San Francisco, and in other places I've visited. It might be called alienation, but that's a bit stronger than I'd like to present it as. For one, it is far more humorous than that, and it makes it easier for me to not feel alienated, because I am able to keep the oddity at a comfortably humorous distance. But it also has a tendency to render Japan "quaint," a designation that is not true of any society in the world, certainly not Japan, and that keeps any foreigner (including myself) from truly participating in that culture.