I have strange dreams on my first night in Tokyo. I know them from before yet not.
I am a sailor on the rough sea off the coast of Ireland. The gritty island ahead is covered with small roads and troubled sketches of tall houses. I am wearing a queer outfit. I know. Driving around in a big rental car – the image is out of balance here – I look for her house. Friendly locals help me locate it on the map with dots.
Her mother starts when she opens the door for me. We walk through a long tunnel, straight to the center of the house, in the heart of a green hill. “You are not supposed to be here”, she reprimands at the kitchen table. In a stale air of impossibility and lost chance, light floods through chinks of doors where windows are supposed to be. This room is filled to the rim with stern figures that know it all.
I wake up to the sound of silent shuffling on the rug. Dozens of men in traditional garment get ready for check-out.
Suginami, Tokyo, 15 October 2012.
I stare at my reflection in the window pane. I have green eyes today. Other days they’d be grey. I guess it depends on my mood. Inside, three revelling retirees wobble to the counter with croissants. I leave my bags at the red sprinkler and saunter to the games plaza. When the doors open, a deafening racket makes my teeth shake. Inside, Japanese of all ages and sexes, most smoking, are absorbed by an arcade game with silver marbles. Maria is late.
“You’re the guy from Belgium?”, she asks.
We walk into the narrow alleyway between the subway station and a fenced parking lot for bicycles.
“Listen, I’m gonna give you this bike. Be careful where you put it. Never just park it on the street or the police will take…” I stop listening because I’m dumbfounded. A miniature and totally comprehensible lego land of cute little houses with cute little porches unfolds. Neat and cramped. Bonsai. I am the male part of a pair of giants trampling this essential cleanliness. Every ten meters the same automatic buzzing vending machines serving hot tea and coffee.
Maria is from Brazil. She’s brunette, with long wild curls and a short leather jacket.
“What’s that you’re holding?”
Passing the eleventh cute little junction, the sun comes out. “You have to excuse me for coming out this late. You chose to arrive on a Sunday. I was out until this morning.”
“I didn’t sleep at the house, if you know what I mean.”
I keep silent.
“I slept somewhere else. I woke up an hour ago and hadn’t cleaned your room yet.”
Maria turns left. The blue signpost sports a chique red tie.
“How come you ended up in Tokyo?”, I ask.
“My husband’s Japanese. We met while he was traveling through South-America. We’re not together anymore.”
“But we still live in the same house.”
Am I to end up in an uncomfortable triangle? “I’m sorry”, is my answer.
“Don’t be. I am not. Life here is amazing. I can have anything I want. And I take it.”
“So are we going to your house now?”
“No. To Miko-san’s. That’s my mother-in-law. She will love you.” Pink flower pot in the middle of a pernicious junction. Black cat on top loving the sun and hating us. Miko-san’s house looks like Miami. Though seventy three, she rides a purple mini.
“Wait a minute”, Maria halts me at the doorstep, “I promised some of the neighbours they could come talk to you.” Across the road, I see a tall beanpole in an oversized trench coat coming from behind her bonsai bush and hobbling toward us. “Be nice to her”, Maria warns, “Asami-san has been waiting for you.”
“Nice to meet you!”, the old woman bows with exaggeration and shakes my hand violently.
“Nice to meet you too.”
“I don’t believe that”, she riposts, “Japanese are not so nice. Not so interesting either.”
“Well, I’m sure that…”
“You are velly handsome”, she states as though it were the conclusion of scientific experimentation, “how long are you staying on our island?”
“Four months, at least.”
“I like foreigners and I like talking to them”, she states. That said, she turns around and hobbles back into the bonzais. Maria sighs. The door handle to the front door opens upwards. We take off our shoes and slide into plastic slippers. The dark wooden furniture turns this already dim room into lethargia.
“You want a coffee?”, Maria asks from behind the oak kitchen counter.
“Sure.” There’s a portrait of a smiling man, surrounded by flowers, on the tatami extension of this room. A glass cabinet showcases souvenirs from Bruges, Antwerp and Cologne.
Maria hands me my coffee – filled to the rim – and sits down across of me at the long dining table. Just a bit too close to be having a regular, normal conversation.
“What are you here for?”
“I got a grant to write on Japanese business culture. And I’m planning on making a documentary on the subject as well. I invited a Belgian camera man to come here in December.”
It doesn’t look as though she is getting the message. Her eyes deviate, rest on a far point in the distance.
“This is good coffee.”
“Glad you like it. So you want to record a movie here? What about?”
“That I am going to find out these coming months. My main focus is business anthropology, but it can be anything…”
Sunlight breaks through the clouds and into the room. It falls on her long eyebrows and protruding cheek bones – as in an iconoclastic depiction of the Mother. “Daan, can I be open to you?”
“My man doesn’t give me enough sex.”
To be continued…