Part II: Shibuya
It’s Saturday night. The only thing I know for sure is that it’s 2010 and I’m in Tokyo. I arrived in Japan a month ago with my friend Bára to find out more about the country that has fascinated me since I was fourteen.
I’m walking down a narrow street in Shibuya lined with bars and restaurants and I feel weird. Everywhere I hear Japanese, which I don’t understand. I know just a couple of words. Definitely not enough to work out what the people around me are saying. Millions of jingles whistling in the air, every bar and restaurant blasting out its own tune. Clusters of grinning guys and girls in killer heels sitting out on the pavement. I hear laughter. Bare skin wherever I look. Girls’ legs in miniskirts, bare shoulders, midriffs and hips. Empty beer cans litter the ground. The air a mixture of perfume fragrance, sea salt and soy sauce. I plonk myself down on the kerb. Two girls are sitting across from me. One is being sick and clearly has no idea where she is. The other is trying to get her back on her feet while talking to someone on the phone. I don’t feel like helping them. I’m in a real mess myself. The thing is, my mind has gone totally blank.
I pull my mobile from my pocket and try to phone Bára. It rings for a while, then there’s a beep and the line goes dead. I try to remember when we last saw each other. Where did I leave her? Why on earth did we separate? We’ve been together all the time so far. We even share the same set of keys to Mr Pepa’s flat, where we’re staying. Could I have got drunk in some bar? Rubbish. My boyfriend, who stayed behind in Prague, has forbidden me to drink to make sure I don’t cheat on him with some Japanese guy while I’m drunk. I’ve only had one can of beer the whole time I’ve been here and when I came clean about it, he blew his top on skype.
I try ringing Bára again. But the mobile just gives another beep and that’s it. How did I end up here? Where exactly have the two of us been today? I press my hands to my temples and try to think. The smell of soy sauce in the air hits me right in the stomach. But I’m not hungry or thirsty. Where the hell have I been today? Have I eaten anything at all?
A vague memory comes back: the two of us are sitting on a bench next to the statue of Hachikō the dog, not far from where I am now. We passed comments on the people around us, laughed at some guy with weird eye make-up and had some onigiri. I wished I’d never have to go back home. Stay here and experience something. But after that, a blank. It’s all black and dark. Bára might be looking for me desperately. Or maybe she’s gone back home and is waiting for me. When I turn up, she’s sure to give me hell for having wandered off. I get up and brush down my bum. Fortunately, I remember the way to Mr Pepa’s house. He lives in Komaba, it’s not that far away, I can easily walk there.
I set out for Komaba but before I know it, I’m back in Shibuya. I must have taken a wrong turn somewhere. Maybe I am drunk after all? Strange, I’m not at all unsteady on my feet. And my head is clear, too, as if I’ve just woken up from a very long sleep. Stunned, I stare at the statue of Hachikō before me. A bunch of salarymen are getting drunk close by. The guys are laughing, smoking and trying to squeeze their totally plastered colleague into a baggage locker.
I look around. In the daytime this place is teeming with people but at night Shibuya Crossing is totally empty. I set out for Komaba again. But after a short walk I find myself back in front of the statue of the dog Hachikō where I last saw Bára this afternoon. Damn it, am I so useless that I can’t even find my way home? I’ve walked this way at least fifteen times. I try to ring Bára again but still can’t get through. I hope she’s not worried about me. Japan is a safe country, with a bit of luck she’s gone to bed and isn’t flipping out unnecessarily.
I sit down on the kerb and start looking for a box of cigarettes. But I can’t find it, must have dropped it somewhere on the way. I don’t have any money on me either. Just my passport tucked into the inside pocket of my jeans jacket. I open it and look at my photo on the front page. Jana Kupková, seventeen years old. I look dreadful. The chap who took my picture was a total dimwit, he stared at my breasts the whole time. That’s why I frowned at him and now, in the photo, I look like a murderer. I sit down on a bench facing the statue of Hachikō. It’s been hot today and the wood feels warm. The sky above Tokyo is yellow, the stars are not visible. If they were, they would probably look different from the ones above Prague.
I like it here. I wish I could stay here forever. I don’t feel like going back to Prague at all. I know I’ll have to break up with my boyfriend when I’m back. I find it all terribly limiting. It only dawned on me here. He phones every day, keeps checking on me like I’m still a child and doesn’t trust me at all. I don’t want a boyfriend like that.
I take a good look at the statute opposite. It’s not all that nice. A slightly stumpy, bronze Akita dog. The Japanese have erected the statue in this spot because they were moved by the dog who used to come here every day even after his master died and waited for him faithfully. Young people use it as a place for dates, just like we meet by the statue of the horse in Wenceslas Square. It’s a place filled with anticipation.
After watching the salarymen for a while, I set off and try to find my way home again. It’s late, but I’m not at all tired. I’m walking, the houses flash past, I know the route well. I pass a ramen restaurant, a twenty-four-hour supermarket, an ice-cream parlour (they sell tea and bean flavour ice-cream), pass a few boutiques that are closed now. Soon I’ll get to a park, will walk past it and then it’s just a few steps to the footbridge to Komaba.
Except that I find myself by the statue of the dog Hachikō again.
I don’t understand what’s going on. Maybe I’m stoned? No, I dismiss the idea straight away. Even smoking damned grass is strictly penalized in Japan. There’s no way I could have got hold of drugs. I wouldn’t take any of my own free will. I haven’t been drinking so nobody could have mixed anything into my drink. But what have I been doing up till now? How did I get here? I try to ring Bára again, for the fifth time maybe. Nothing. Just another beep on the phone. I start walking home again. And again I end up by the statue of the faithfully waiting Hachikō. I sit down on a bench. Now I’m starting to panic.
I pinch myself in the arm. It doesn’t hurt. I pinch myself so hard that my skin goes blue. It doesn’t hurt. I’m not hungry, I’m not thirsty either, and I’m not tired. Am I even alive? Maybe I’ve died? Turned into a ghost? For heaven’s sake, what’s all this silly stuff going through my head?
I get up again and head for home. I have no keys, I have no money, my mobile isn’t working, what on earth am I going to do? I try a different route. Down the main boulevard, past some souvenir shops. I reach a huge bookshop, turn left and keep going. I pass the restaurant where they serve okomiyaki, a couple of sushi places, a gigantic shopping centre where they sell clothes. I turn left, just a few steps and I’m at the park, soon I’ll see the temple. I turn right. And I’m back at Hachikō.
I’m trapped here.
I sit down on the kerb in front of the statue and hold my head in my hands. What’s going on? Am I dreaming? Yes! It’s got to be a dream. A nightmare! Keep calm, Jana. Relax. Take deep breaths. It’s all right. You’ll wake up in a minute. In a minute you’ll be in your own bed. This is just a dream.
Hachikō keeps staring at me blankly. It’s Saturday night. The only thing I know for sure is that it’s 2010. But I’m no longer even sure that I’m really in Japan.
OK. The way I see it, I’ve found myself in some sort of a time, or time-space, warp. I don’t understand physics and stuff like that, I have no head for science. I was still in first form when the teacher informed me with a sad face that I probably had dyscalculia. I burst into tears because I thought dyscalculia was some kind of a disease, like the cancer that my great-grandma died from. At home my mum explained that I’m just dim and shouldn’t worry about it. And Kristýna never stops telling me that it’s all right, everyone is useless at something. In her case, Czech. And sure enough, she couldn’t get her nouns and verbs to agree if her life depended on it.
I popped into a stationery shop in a side street and stole a notebook and a pencil. I’d never stolen anything before. Not even a chewing gum or a biscuit, even though other kids in primary school egged me on. Not until now. And I’ve only done it because I have no money and can’t buy anything. The other thing is, I’ve noticed that the Japanese don’t take any notice of me. They don’t seem to see me at all. It’s weird. They might bump into me but if someone asked them who it was they bumped into, they’d have no idea it was a European. I really stick out in this place, and yet nobody sees me. I’ve been here a couple of days and all this time nobody has said a word to me. I’ve tried to talk to some policemen and traffic police, asked them how to get to Komaba to Mr Pepa’s flat but they have either ignored me or replied in Japanese, which I don’t understand.
I haven’t eaten anything. I’m just not hungry. I’m not thirsty either and, strangely enough, neither do I need to go to the toilet. When I see crowds of people enjoying juicy udon noodles I feel like having some as well. But I can’t eat. It’s not working. I tried to finish some ramen that a girl had left in a bowl, but the chopsticks just wouldn’t reach all the way to my mouth. It’s not because I’m clumsy. In fact, I’ve got eating with chopsticks down to a fine art. I practised at home on tinned peas. But here I just can’t do it. The same goes for drinking. I can raise a glass to my mouth, but the water seems to stick to the walls of the glass and refuses to slide down my throat.
I’m unable to reach anyone. I’ve tried all the phones on Shibuya station, there’s a signal on all of them but I can’t get through anywhere. I tried to sleep but couldn’t. And so I’ve stolen this notebook and a pencil and have started writing it all down because I need to wrap my head around this.
The fact that everyone ignores me is really weird, but at the same time it’s great, because it allows me to try out things that would never have occurred to me before or would have been simply impossible. I’ve dropped into the nearest sushi bar a few times and had fun confusing the customers. Every time they pick up a tasty looking piece of sushi and are about to dip it in the soy sauce, I push the bowl a few centimetres down the table, forcing them to reach for it further. And further. I keep moving the bowl on the table while the baffled customers wave their piece of sushi in the air, trying to get at the bowl with soy sauce, their eyes popping. I have brought some bottles of ketchup into the sushi bar, placed them on the tables and waited to see how the cooks and waitresses would react. They kicked up a mighty fuss, as if some lions had escaped from the zoo. The waitresses hurriedly reached over the heads of the customers to get rid of the outrage blighting their establishment, bowing apologetically. I felt quite sorry for them in the end. I drew a smiley face on the cook’s apron in fish blood. I had a good look at how they soak rice, how nori seaweed is roasted above a flame, and at the morning fish deliveries from the market. I find it fascinating that the Japanese take no notice of me even if I’m sitting or standing right next to them.
There’s this huge bookshop in Shibuya. I brought in a lemon and planted it on a pile of books like a bomb. I found some porn magazines in a drawer of the commissioner at a nearby police station and stuck them in among the horror books. I dropped into the music department and started listening to the records they’re selling. I’m beginning to feel quite at home here. I sit on the floor in front of the stacks listening to one song after another. The shop assistants smile rigidly as if wearing masks instead of faces. They don’t mind at all when I sprawl out on the sofa in the corridor, take off my shoes and stare at the ceiling. They just ignore me.
I’m quite an expert on music. My dad has given me a good training. He would be terribly disappointed if I couldn’t tell if it was John or Paul singing, or if it was Neil Young with, or without, Crazy Horse, so I mugged up on the names of bands and their line-ups, learning them by heart as if it was poetry. But the shop in Shibuya where I’ve been squatting has loads of music I don’t know. It would take me ten years to listen to it all. A lot of it is impossible to listen to. Like what they call visual-kei.
I first came across visual-kei in Prague while googling Japan on the internet. It’s a movement that started among Japanese bands in the eighties. Visual-kei bands wear crazy clothing, provocative make-up and dye their hair. Quite often you can’t tell if they are men or women. Bunches of made-up and masked Japanese bang their instruments thinking they’re making music, and a vocalist sings something theatrically in Japanese, which I don’t understand. Some people get off on this kind of music and everything that goes with it. But it’s not my kind of thing.
Translated by Julia Sherwood.