15 June 2019 – Waiheke to Shibuya

I am looking out up at one of the towers of Shibuya. The tatami is fresh and green. It’s about a 6 tatami room—about because it’s cut on a diagonal at one corner, this room in a 120 year-old ryokhan. The doors are low onto the corridor and the narrow stairwell, as well into the private bath room, while the dimensions expand as one enters the sleeping room, leaving one’s slippers on the polished wood steps up to it.

The smell of tatami—ah, but the exterior sliding door is open and I’m getting regular whiffs of something that smells like jet fuel. It’s not the sake.

Less than a block away an express-way cuts through the builtup. A series in fact. As one dives underground, another rises above. But some pact has been made with the presiding genii loci and it is peaceful. That’s not the sake either.

Fukudaya Hotel. I asked for directions in three different Family Marts. The first, after I left Shibuya Station, off the Yamanote Line, by the South exit, confirmed that I had correctly interpreted the map by compass bearings: leaving by South, left then to South East. The second misled me entirely, but I had also by that time asked two strangers. The first, a young man smoking a cigarette, drinking from a narrow can, holding a cheap umbrella, like me, recognised the square sign on my map as marking a Family Mart. The second, a young woman, had a phone and looked up the directions. These sent me on a loop past the Family Mart—the site of my second consultation.

By the third Family Mart I had become less sure I was at all in the right vicinity. I went down the road. I came back up the road, and hearing English being spoken, but knowing being understood was the least of my worries, since the young woman who had consulted her cellphone understood where I wanted to go, I held up my by now creased and soggy map to a couple sharing a black umbrella.

She too looked it up on her phone. He turned it sideways, rotated it, reversed the rotation and declared that they would go with me. Were they happy with that? Was she happy with that?

Yes. He had worked in Australia for a year, and in Alice Springs, as a tour guide. I asked if he had lost any Japanese, wondering if he would say if he had.

No. He had also spent 6 months in Papua New Guinea. Had he lost..

His girlfriend was from the Philippines. He had the pride of guy who has done stuff, was proud also of the girl on his arm.

Crossing a road, he said, I used to do Air BnB. But then they changed the law… He pointed down a road. That’s where I live, he said.

Central Shibuya. Lucky, I said.

We came to Fukudaya Hotel—and it was still attended by the concierge who had me read the information sheet and when I asked about the shoeboxes it mentioned, showed me where they were, said I could take slippers. These were shoe-sized wooden lockers, some with leather slippers above them on a narrow shelf.

I transferred my shoes to the shoebox and swapped the white leather shoes marked with a black pen ‘toilet’ on the shelf above it for the dark tan ones without markings. Toilet slippers date from the times when getting to the loo out back would have meant dirtying one’s indoor slippers.

I was then shown the code to get in should I be out past the lockup time of 11.30pm. Perhaps I would have been out late to one of the ‘live gallery show’ joints.

I went out. Picked the Seven Eleven for the better snack—which was all I really wanted—and sake place and, having had my salmon rice seaweed pickle dish warmed for me, I returned to my fresh tatami, opened the terrace slider to the occasional jetfume, and resumed my wearing of the yukata provided for me and my friend. The booking form didn’t seem to want one person for one room. It seemed to prefer two.

The concierge had been perturbed I was one. I understand why. In the room, when he showed me it, were nicely arranged two single futons side by side. But he had lightened at the thought I might be out beyond the 11.30 limit to his attendance at the desk and have to enter the code he conceded to give to me, handwritten, on a small piece of card. There was a sort of complicity in the way he conveyed this information; he was probably disappointed when I came back early.

It has happened many times in Nihon: the world ended last night with a CLANG, as if a giant brass tank had been hit by a pendulum hammer high above the city.

Awoken I listened for and felt out for the shock waves and sirens or wind of matter that would ensue—the screaming concrete metal and organic matter that would tear me away… But there was a silence. Then, in the distance what might have been thunder, some flashes of lightning, and nothing.

A bird chup chups in the dawn. Now later, a repetitive whistle—sounds plaintive and the roar of the expressway restored by Sunday.