It’s been a little over nine years since I stepped off the plane in Narita and arrived in Tokyo for the very first time, alone with several suitcases and a guitar. Yesterday, during the course of transferring over past journal entries from the old website one by one, I glimpsed the old photographs I took from years ago, each entry growing progressively older in time, and it was like traveling into the past with little sparks of memory glowing out here and there, fireflies of the mind.
I still remember my surprise at the heavy humidity and heat of August and September, my first days and weeks here a whirlwind of diving headfirst into a new full-time job and a new country. Feeling shock as I squeezed myself into the subway train during commuting hours the very next morning after arriving, getting lost in Shibuya immediately and having to ask a policeman for help in hesitant Japanese. Living out of a tiny, cramped hotel room in Kayabacho for the first week while already doing full days of work, because that’s what my company told me to do and I hadn’t a chance to find an apartment yet. After putting down my suitcases in that room, there was barely space to walk.
This is what I found in my handwritten journal from those days:
“September 10th, 2009. My 4th day in Tokyo. I’m at the hotel. I was so sad and frustrated, I cried last night as I went to sleep. The stress and stuff finally hit me. I cried a little too today, in the bathroom of the company. Couldn’t hold back… wanted to cry when I ate my mushroom soba for lunch, because it was the best thing I’ve tasted for a while.”
Despite all my confidence and excitement about finally making it to Japan, it seems like the first days really were a challenge, being by myself in a strange city and having to go to work immediately, no time to relax or go sightseeing. Now I remember, I was eating mainly convenience store food for that first week, and when I worked up the courage to try a little soba shop near my company one day, the warm bowl of noodles topped with mushrooms was so delicious that I felt tears brimming in my eyes.
I remember watching the seasons change before my eyes, the reverberating call of summer insects giving way to rustling leaves on fire with color. One morning when I woke up, the streets were white and people were walking past with umbrellas, their feet crunching through the snow.
My first spring in Japan, I watched the cherry blossom trees by the river near my station burst into bloom with white and pink petals, sailing through the air, landing in the water and swirling there. The cold was beginning to thaw. Warm and happy in the springtime sunlight, I felt that anything was possible, and I could make it happen.
Oh, Tokyo. So much has happened over the years, so many twists and turns in the path, new things growing and others let go or faded back into the distance. Thank you for giving me a chance, many chances, for challenging me and welcoming me with open arms, your trains and crowds, rivers and roads, parks and streets, people both kind and difficult. It has been nine years, and you are a part of me as much as I am a part of you. I have learned and grown because of you. Here, I have cried and laughed, felt sadness and joy, loneliness and calm, anger and compassion. I have lived, and I am glad for it all.
But it’s not enough just to be satisfied with what has happened, content with memories. What matters is the future, which is now, and it’s already happening in every second that passes and every breath of air that passes in and out of our lungs. We are located in the here and now. No matter what kind of challenges we have faced, what tears we have cried or fears we have battled, the way to tomorrow is still through the current moment.
There is a choice. So I choose, over and over, to wake up from the dreamscape to what should be done.
The sparks of memory from the past nine years in Tokyo remind me that time is precious. Each fleeting moment, a chance to make a conscious choice. Each breath, an opportunity for kindness and compassion.