Tokyo Turbocharge

This blog is not really a blog so much as a story in the process of being written. It's about what happens when an English guy goes to Japan for a couple of years. Please use the comments to let me know what bits you like or don't like.

You can start at the beginning by clicking here, or go to my normal blog Glacons.

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

4. Narita

Looking down from the top of the stairs with my passport in my hand, my mind was sensually assaulted with the shapes and sounds of a world awesomely foreign to the patterns of life burnt stale between my ears. To be sure, all the familiar objects you would expect were arranged about me, signs and parallel lines of u-shaped baggage claim belts, people with arms and legs milling about purposefully, carts being pushed and suitcases dragged, announcements made, customs officials inspecting and surveying. But it was not in these generalities of the scene that my senses were tweaked and teased, it was in the details.

The air held an air-conditioned chill, and a scent that was moist and subtly salty inside my nose. The sparkling surfaces of stainless steel greeted me, with rubber belts bearing the loaded luggage without sign of complaint, whirring in a silent purr of engineered perfection. Grey rectangles suspended from the ceiling held signs for our information, flashing nimble rows of electronic green and red dots which formed lines and strokes and curled corners, a language assembled in an intricacy my mind was not prepared to recognise. In a sea of heads we all stood out as sharply as flickering candles against the crowded darkness of jet black hair. Our height and our clothes, the volume of our voices, the way we were standing as we waited to pull our cases from the carousel and the way we walked out through customs, all these things were in contrast, all were strange. But of course, it was not us who were strange to our senses. In our bubbles of perception shaped by the UK over our lifetimes, it was what we were seeing that we categorised as strange as our vivid eyes darted from shape to shape.

We passed through into the arrivals hall with our trolleys loaded and wilful. The volume of our sensual confusion increased against the background of faces and shops and words read and spoken which rendered our language useless and our biology unnervingly distinct. We were immediately approached by a small collection of Westerners and Japanese holding signs for The JET Programme, marshalling us into an orderly huddle away from the path of others pushing their way out from customs. As we waited around for everyone to be organised, Dave and I and one girl from our gang of four smokers discussed sneaking off to have our first cigarette on Japanese tarmac. Spying some tinted doors leading out onto the taxi and bus stands, we headed over and the doors parted automatically although a little later than we expected, making us stop awkwardly in front of them. When they opened again our jet-lagged and already grimy bodies were enveloped in a hot mist of August humidity. It licked our faces as we stepped outside, and snuck under our shirts to sit in our armpits and lie across our backs in thin sweaty pools. I pulled out my packet of Marlboro Lights as Dave offered me match, gleaned from some London pub and now sharing our voyage.

"Fuckin' hell, it's hot", I said.

"God yeah, it's 'orrible. And this jet-lag's killin' me".

He was right, Dave. The three of us really looked like death warmed up and given a bad hair cut, standing there sharing the humidity with the exhaust fumes of buses and cars.

"It's pretty weird innit? I mean all the signs and stuff. And look at those buses". Karen looked across to the roadway, taking a quick drag and then exhaling. "They've got lace curtains!"

"Oh yeah! Weird. What's that all about?!", I replied, "And they're all short and stumpy and stuff". They certainly were a different shape from any coach or bus you might have seen in London.

"Look at those taxis", Dave said, pointing a little further down from where we were, "The drivers are all wearing white gloves. Every one of them. And they're all wearing the same suit".

We stood there smoking, gazing about in our surreal state with hearts pumping blood around our veins, carrying nicotine and Japanese air to our organs and tissues. Our bodies absorbed and our minds reacted to Japan with every breath, every photon of light and every note of noise, whether an electronic chime or a child's voice we didn't understand. The unknown had started to flow unstoppably into us. Whatever adventure we had lined ourselves up for had begun.

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