Tokyo Saga: Shinjuku Revelations

Continuing our adventures from last time, Beth had started to experience migraine symptoms so she rested at home while Craig and I checked out the infamous Shinjuku.  As an area run largely by the yakuza, I was impressed by the quantity of panchiko parlours and adult stores, particularly in Kabukicho. Craig and I had dared ourselves to check out some dodgy-looking places in the past, but the abundance of them here was both confronting and delightful. I am very supportive of consensual sex in all its forms, and Japan delights me for having such freedom of access and expression to a wide variety of sexual tastes. Don’t get me wrong, certain things are still taboo, and there are undoubtably huge problems with having such a large adult entertainment industry, but as a whole I am deeply heartened by how open people are about loving what they love.

However, as we looked at the front of one establishment, next to a restaurant that apparently got girls to dress up as hot robots, a man approached us and asked what we were looking for/at. We told him nothing and excused ourselves, but he kept pace with us a moment to show us flyers of women. When we continued to walk away, he continued to walk with us, asking “You don’t like Japanese girls?” I was a few seconds away from placing my umbrella on his chest and telling him “Yamero!” (Stop! That’s enough!”) when he desisted, though Craig wasn’t too fussed by it. I think I’m still a little twitchy from my adventures in Egypt.

We eventually made our way to Capbar, the Capcom themed bar that served video-game based novelty food. We didn’t know too much about it other than they served jellified brains and blood-like sauce for dessert, but that was enough for us. I (rather bravely, I thought) attempted to communicate my desire to make a reservation for three people on Tuesday night at 7pm. Through no English whatsoever, I managed to make the reservation in the name of… Kuwai-gon Jin. Yeah, that’s right, you heard me. I figured Xin would be too hard, so I went to the other extreme and giggled madly all the way home and for many days afterwards.

Shinjuku also holds a special memory for me because I dared to practice my first real act of charity here. This is a story I wouldn’t normally share, because I don’t want the attention and approval of others to be a motivating factor when I make a choice to be kind to others. Nevertheless, I want to share this story anyway, because it’s one of my happiest memories here, and in the hopes that maybe it will inspire others and improve the lives of those around them.

On the train ride into the city centre, a free seat became available and, after a moment of seeing if anyone else might need/enjoy it more, I took it. It was only after I sat down that I noticed who I was sitting next to: he was an older man, maybe 45, with a scraggly beard and a faded jacket which he wore with the hood up as he hunched over and apparently slept in his seat. At first I politely ignored him, but I couldn’t help but notice his fingernails – long, curved and yellow, in need of some attention and care. The more I looked at him the more I saw: the holes in his shoes, the worn fabric of his clothes, the smell of being unwashed, the utter exhaustion, even defeat in his posture. My heart was moved as I recognised the humanity in him, as I recognised myself in him (“here but for the Grace of God go I”). I resolved then to be kind to him, and settled on giving him some money before I got off the train. As we approached the station, I touched his hand gently and said “Ojii-san” (which means something like “Uncle”, or is a polite way of saying “Old man”). He didn’t notice at first so I shook him gently until he moved, and then I slipped a 500¥ coin into his hand (about $5) saying “Hai, dozou” (something like “Here, for you”). He seemed startled and thanked me, really thanked me from the bottom of his heart as he bowed to me (to express gratitude, not in a way that implied worship). He slipped the coin into his pocket as we left, and I felt the rush of endorphins at having done a good deed. Then, gently, I reminded myself that my pleasure was not the goal of helping others (though it does not mean I have to feel bad about it either – I can look upon the memory with happiness, so long as I don’t get caught up on it).

After that, things started to change a little for me. For some time now I’ve bought only a few material goods with the belief that “I don’t need more stuff to make my life better“. So many great people throughout history have been non-materialists, who have not owned very much and yet been very happy. And yet this aspiration of mine conflicted with the people I know who have plenty of fine things – clothes, whisky, teapots – and are still genuinely happy and not attached to their belongings (or their ego, for that matter). I realised in a kind of eureka moment that having stuff is not inherently bad. It is attachment, dependence and the potential as a cheap means of distraction that makes “stuff” potentially life-cluttering. As I stood there in the changerooms of Topman, looking at a basketball jersey that I didn’t really like, I suddenly realised that it’s okay for me to look nice, to care about my presentation and to have my own sense of style, not for the benefit of others but for my own expression of self. And so I left the store, because I just wasn’t feelin’ it, and hit up UniQlo instead. 20140216_223412I bought a tartan shirt, a pink polo, a blue jacket, and a navy shirt to go with my sweet maroon room pants. The next day, I dared to buy a yukata (a lightweight cotton kimono-style garment for summerwear), including geta (wooden shoes), just because I could. I felt confirmed in my sense of identity, and in how I wanted to express that identity, and I am utterly grateful for that moment in my life.

I also want to say that for most of my life I’ve also cherished the belief that I don’t need much money to survive (maybe a few dozen dollars a week) and I should give the rest to people who need it more. After my revelation, I now believe that spending money on myself isn’t wasteful, but neither is it a right. It is a privilege I have for being fortunate enough to be wealthy – wealthy enough to be healthy and safe and financially and materially secure. Spending money on myself doesn’t lessen my character, doesn’t make me any less kind (which I still believe is one of the only thing that really matters in life, one of the three treasures of the Tao). So long as I am grateful for what I have and don’t take it for granted, it’s good to have nice clothes (and whisky and teapots).

Well, that’s enough for now. I’ll write again soon. All the best.



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