Suppose that you and I were sat down in a coffee house in the middle of London, exchanging travelling stories. Whilst we’re listening to such and such song, suppose we carry on with our utterly mundane conversation when I suddenly say to you:
“What I’m about to tell you, might seem sublimely indifferent to logic.
It was the night of 15th of July, during the loud celebration of the Obon festival and I was in Shinjuku. “Domo Arigato” I say to the itamae as I leave the sushi bar. I take my camera out and I start walking aimlessly through Tokyo’s most colourful and vibrant streets. It’s busy, the neon lights are overwhelmingly vivid, locals and tourists alike roam the place. I take a turn just to discover a dark and quiet side street, away from the crowds. Drawn by it, I find myself exploring a dazzling little shrine, tucked away in the darkest corners of Tokyo. A Japanese lady bows to show her respect towards the spirits as she walks out through the torii gate. Our eyes meet for a brief second.
I slowly approach the shrine. The surroundings smell of agarwood. I follow the scent and find myself staring at burning incense sticks. Mesmerised, I admire the dancing smoke as it rises towards the skies. Lost in thoughts, I close my eyes, take a deep breath and listen to Shinjuku’s noise of celebration, which is now slowly fading away.
As I leave the shrine, I too bow and honour the spirits. I try to find my way back to Shinjuku’s madness, but the neon-lit streets are gone and I get hit by a strong smell of fish and a ghostly silence. I’m surrounded by Japanese people wearing kimonos and getas, carrying buckets full of water and sea creatures. The imposing skyscrapers are now replaced by traditional wooden houses. There are no tourists, no department stores and no street food. I can only see eager merchants trying to sell their freshly caught seafood. Instinctively, I reach for my camera to snap this eerie scene. But then I realise the impossible cannot be photographed, only experienced.
I feel puzzled but not lost. I allow myself some time to just stand there, in the middle of it all. I admire young maikos and try to understand the hardship of life as it was, back then. I wonder what would these people say if I were to paint their future with words. Would they even understand what kawaii is? Could they believe that Tokyo would become the world’s biggest metropolis and a major scene for sci-fi? I choose wisely to keep my thoughts to myself.
I head back to the hidden shrine. A Japanese lady bows to show her respect towards the spirits as she walks out through the torii gate. Our eyes meet for a brief second. The smell of agarwood overwhelms me. I close my eyes, only to open them and hear yet again, the futuristic sounds of Shinjuku.”
I stop, look at you and sip my coffee. I smile and softly say to myself that Japan truly is the gateway to multiple timelines.