James Whitlow Delano -- Alone
I like Tokyo best at night, when I am alone, in places like Shinjuku where the flow of humanity, on its way to who knows where, has no end. Eyes are forward, little eye contact, the conveyor belt of the nameless march in isolation, buried in the anonymous crowd. On and on, some red-faced from drink, a few words or brief laughter shared, then eyes forward again. March. Minimal eye contact, a tinge of melancholy, the legions of people I will never know are marching somewhere I will never go…each alone.
How many people in this country will I pass just once in a lifetime never to share the same space again? A friend lost? An enemy avoided?
In my neighborhood alone, how many will I never, ever lay eyes on, and yet together, apart, we call those same streets home? Walls are built above eye level to deflect prying eyes. Tiny exterior windows are smoked, like shower doors. Impenetrable are the lives lurking inside, forever out of sight, out of mind. I’ve never been inside my neighbor’s houses, nor have they ever been in mine. It is not done.
Even izakaya pubs and greasy-spoon ramen shops have frosted glass, slick with cooking oil condensation, the occasional raised voice heard through the door cracked a little open, underneath the “noren” cleaved curtain. People here die and weeks will pass before finally an odor escapes or someone notices the garbage has not been brought out on the designated days before protocol can be suspended and it is all right to stick one’s nose into another’s business. An elderly man, around the corner from me, discovered his wife had hanged herself from a low limb of a small plum tree. Next to it grew a lovely peach tree that sent out pink blossoms every spring on one half and white ones on the other. That same year, the pink half of the tree inexplicably died too. Something about the house had changed. The old man, now a widower, was visibly deflating from despair and then one day I realized I hadn’t seen him for a while. I would never see him again. Only later did I finally find out the truth, even after whatever killed the pink blossom side of the tree got to the other half. The tree was finally cut down. That’s how it goes here - Eyes forward, buried in the anonymous crowd. March.
This series asks questions, offers few answers. I prefer it that way.
-- James Whitlow Delano
(From the project, "We Are All Alone: Japan Street Series)
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