Notes on tour: At an angle to the universe
So, I've been trying to find my soundbite about our Japan trip. It's tricky.
I've been falling back on 'crazy. In a good way. But still, crazy.'
For one, arriving in Tokyo is landing in a world that you know, and know is familiar, and yet you're looking at it through a coloured plastic lens, so what should be safe and comfortable becomes odd, and possibly even threatening. And still yet gaudily, brutally attractive.
And you're reminded that the night sky there was the inspiration for Blade Runner, and it still is the best guide to how our future will look, in the all-conquering megaopolises of the future.
And then you start to wonder at how such hard-edged visions can possibly coexist with the relentless displays of 'cuteness'. It is everywhere, commonplace and as unremarkable as oxygen. And no one questions what it says about a society, when it appears that it is the dominant mode of urban communication.
It must have something to do with the idea of displacing trauma, that some things hurt so much that they can't be explicitly answered or dealt with, and instead are nodded at elliptically through neon and pink and big eyes and chirpy voices and big, vacant smiles, smiles born of fear.
So you try and find the hard and fast, the verifiable and the factual, as a means to anchor you. Like the technology, and the way it is not used as 'technology', but a visible symbol of progress, and the fact that the Japan is just like us.
But then you run into the issue of women and sexism and patriarchy and how - still - the silent, demure is the ideal, and you realise you have to start again.
There's another note that runs through all discussions of trips to Japan. Did you find the 'real' Japan? The one that talks of geishas and shoguns and Shinto and cherry blossoms and emperors and a culture at once unknowable and yet very much like ours?
But soon it becomes clear, that even more than the urban disjoint, these waterfalls and hideaways and mountains and temples are no more likely to give up their secrets than the concrete sea that you see from the windows of your speeding train.
So you fall back on the earthy, the thing we all share. Food. Except we don't. And that's the biggest cultural test of all. It's the thing that causes most people to break. The preciseness, the visual beauty, the sheer other-wordliness of the flavours you encounter set up mental expectations that your tongue can't deliver, can't process, can't deal with.
And you deal with the raw fish for breakfast as a sort of low-grade Ahab, facing it down, wrestling with it in your dreams, determined that it won't beat you. And it does, it always does.
Which means that, all that's left, is to think about the fact that, however long you're there, however much you see, however much you look, you'll never even begin to get a handle on it, the etiquette, the land, the people.
That you think you recognise yourself here. But actually, when you refract the familiar again and again and again and again, you're left with what you know, but seen at an angle, that is part of your universe, but so very much not.