This morning I walked through narrow city streets lined with bars, record stores, vintage clothing shops, live houses and cafés. Potted plants lines the crowded streets and vines grew up the sides of most buildings. Laundry flapped from clothing wires hanging on balconies above, and as I walked I saw all the personal items of faces I would never meet.
This is my neighborhood.
It wasn't even 8 am, and already the heat of the city in summer had crept in. I noticed most people around me dabbing at their faces with pocket handkerchiefs. Japanese salary men committed to their business suits, even during the most humid days.
I arrived at a station and bought my ticket so I could begin my commute to work. A commute. Something completely foreign to me until this morning. In the previous chapter, I had biked along a river, smiling at the Nagano Alps as I began each day with a breathtaking view. Now I shuffled into line to purchase a ticket, wiggled through the automatic checker, and followed the arrows directing me up the stairs to where I could board my train. Each pathway is divided in half, and the arrows tell you where you can walk. There are too many people to leave this up to free will. Only madness would result if people were given the decision of which side to walk on.
I waited on the platform in line with the rest of the people from my neighborhood. Everyone's head facing down, eyes glued to their cell phones or iPods or tablets. There was no communication. No exchanging of morning greetings. This is Tokyo, a place where there are too many people to give your time to each person that touches your life.
The first train I could have boarded arrived, but I decided to pass because it would have meant shoving others in even more, only to be pressed against the door the entire ride.
I took the second train that arrived, and journeyed through neighborhoods and stations that had once only existed in books, magazines and movies. Names like Shinjuku, Yoyogi, Harajuku and Shibuya.
The train was packed to a snug, and I could feel strangers bodies against mine. I had one arm up above my head, gripping the hand bar for support so I wouldn't sway and lose my balance with the movement of the train. It jolted back and forth and I worried about bumping those too close. I gripped harder. The man next to me was reading a book. Neither hand was being used to support himself.
It was obvious I was new to this.
I was in acid washed shorts, Indian tribal print tights and a shirt that covered my tattoos. Converse on my feet. To my left and right were white shirts, button up collered dress shirts, black slacks, business suits, skirt suits, high heels, men's leather black dress shoes. School girls in plaid and starched white shirts were sprinkled in between the generation of those who came before them. Those who keep the machine that is Tokyo running.
I am not part of this Tokyo.
I never will be.
I transferred trains at the busiest station in the world, and then exited at the busiest crossing in the world.
It is impossible to describe how many people there are. It's like a wave of humans. They just keep coming in. Flooding the streets. Washing away any and all personal space. The energy is amazing. Dizzying. I've never experienced anything like this. I am swept away and swallowed whole as my big eyes take in this corner of humanity and this world it has built. Everything rushes out and up. Racing into the streets, towering into the skies.
Even in a city with 33 million Japanese, and thousands of foreigners, I can not help but notice how different I am. There is no one dressed like me in the train, and as people push and hurry past me in the station halls, I don't see anyone who shares my features.
I am a 26 year old blue eyed American with a California soul, honey colored hair and sun kissed freckled skin, living in Tokyo.
I couldn't blend in even if I wanted to.
How did I end up here?
This is day one of the story that changes the rest of my life.