A late night in Azabu Juban.
I always take note of August 23rd. It was on that day in 1998 — so long ago now — that I set out alone to travel for the first time. I took the train from Dundee to London, then, although I’d never used an underground before, made it to Heathrow and onto a flight to Tokyo with an onward ticket to Australia. Each step of the way, I advanced by copying people around me. I followed strangers onto the tube, through the airport, and then, seated on the plane, watched my neighbor snap apart then position her fingers around chopsticks, and then imitated her — I was going to Japan, on a Japanese airline, and had never tried to use chopsticks before.
For each action, I chose to copy rather than to ask. I was painfully shy and that, perhaps, was the reason I was travelling. Travel would make me a better person, I hoped, more confident.
The thought of travel had been on my mind for as long as I remember. It started with a path behind one of the big fields in my small village. Time and again, I imagined myself walking down that path to … where? I imagined myself just walking and walking; entering the world that remained stubbornly outside of mine. Even as I grew older and the world became bigger, I never did walk down that path. I chose instead to go further, and so it was that on August 23rd 1998 I got on a flight to Tokyo, a destination chosen for no good reason. Maybe soon, to mark 15 years of setting out to travel, I should take a walk down that path.
I have been walking through Tokyo to the rhythm of David Bowie’s Where Are We Now. My walks, like the song, are a steady rereading of place names remembered, retreaded; names that are memories and walking through them just to feel their familiarity.
Just walking the dead.
When he sings, “had to get the train from Potsdamer Platz. You never knew .. that I could do that.” I recognise that odd sense of achievement in reaching the familiarity where you make a city your own. A city that you trust you have earned your right to wax nostalgic about. A city to whom you can say Tadaima! (I’m home), when you arrive at it’s airport for the first time in years. Or, a city that can be the focus of your comeback single when no-one has heard a peep out of you for nearly a decade and it makes sense. Nürnberger Strasse, Aoyama, Dschungel, Azabu Juban … the places are a part of you.
I can get a train anywhere in Tokyo. I can glance at the Metro map and compile a route, including transfers, in seconds. You could drop me on a street anywhere in this city and my feet would find the way home.
Ah, but home, It’s not really home anymore though, is it? I’m just walking the dead.