When I think of you, I think about a red dot against a sea of white. Stark, distinct, and unmistakable like sunset.
I think of peaceful bike rides downhill. Bullet trains swiftly cutting the air with its speed. I think of little alleys and gray concrete and solitary moments. A pair of slippers on the mat. The silent swoosh of a sliding door.
Silhouettes dancing on the other side of the screen.
When I think of you, I think of bright and sunny school days. Of larks circling overhead, singing to fill in the spaces of children’s laughter. Girls looking out the window, in socks that cover knee caps.
The jovial school bells ascending, resounding like a music box.
When I think of you, I think of your buildings – so tall, they swallow me whole. Your buildings so alive, I could hear them humming. I think about the lights that illuminate your sky. I think about the beat of the city. The footsteps of the frantic, the cars and the trains rattling floors in synchrony.
I long to get lost in your city that never sleeps.
When I think of you, I think of letters. Letters written as wishes, tacked on the walls of a lantern shop. Foreign letters strung together to mean things I’m unable to comprehend.
I think about glowing signages, and arrows leading to exits on a train station. I think of airport bookstores. Their shelves littered with book spines, named by words I’m incapable of reading.
Named by words I’ve fallen in love with, long before I could even understand.
When I think of you, I think of your tongue – accustomed to bite-sized things that are rolled carefully. Accustomed to the small and saccharine.
Built to seek all the tastes your senses can find, so you can keep them in wafer sticks.
When I think of you, I think of a child. On how much of your world has been constructed so that a child could frolic in it forever. Your world is for the child who craves the clinking sounds of a video game arcade.
For the child who delights in the mystery of a Hello Kitty blind box, and the surprise of a gachapon egg.
When I think of you, I think of shiny eyes. Of long blue hair like a river.
Of sword fights, daring adventures and solving mysteries of the night. I think of worlds that brim with possibilities – where young girls grow up to run dojos and young boys grow up to be emperors. Where Bean Bun boys become superheroes.
When I think of you, I think of rain. The steady tapping on the roof while wrapped around a blanket. The heavy, angry pouring while it relinquishes the earth. Droplets merge into blobs in the windowpanes of the city. Umbrellas like flowers in bloom amongst the crowd, at the first drop of rain.
When I think of you, I think of beautiful juxtapositions. Peace contained in ponds and gardens underneath the rumble of feet that walk pedestrian lines. I think of tradition embedded deep within the glistening surface of modernity. I think of a maiko and a mori girl crossing paths in daylight.
I think of you, looking back despite blazing forward.
How is it that a single mention of the word manga, or samurai, or geisha, can represent an entire nation?
The Japan I’ve come to love has been built with images, interconnected. Images I’ve stitched together from the things I have read, and seen, and heard. The Japan I love is just constructed with bricks of stereotypical ideas and picturesque stills – coming from a life I haven’t lived, and from a nation I haven’t lived in.
But every now and then, I get to strap myself onto a seat that divides the skies and breaks barriers.
I get to live these images in the eyes of an alien. An alien peering through the glass windows of Omotesando. An alien in the Shibuya crossing. An alien taking photographs. An alien missing a train.
And whenever time allows me to escape to the place I pine for the most – believe me.
It is a red letter day.