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Alone in Tokyo

For the past days, I have been blessed to stay in a land that has, for a long time, been foremost in my mind: the land of the rising sun.

For the past few days, where a Westerner needs to cover their tattoos, I have laid naked in a Japanese hot spring (onsen). I´ve slept on a mattress with great humility in a two-square meter cell. I´ve ordered ramen noodles from a street vendor, communicated with robots, chatted with a toilet, tasted the best and the worst foods and met a fox while out strolling. I´ve watched locals take naps on a train, on benches, and in coffee shops. Admired people who bow, reversing backwards out the door. Been squashed in the underground like sardines in a tin, felt like an ant in an ants´ nest—but never felt uncomfortable because no one is pushing, groping, or stealing.

For the past few days, I have been lost in the world´s largest train station, wandered around and around and around in circles because Google maps does not understand Shinjuku and I don´t understand Japanese. Despite the architect of information having the very best of intentions, Google maps decides my fate, with which I always remain content. Many times, I have experienced the unfamiliar, such as receiving a free e-cigarette as a gift at a conference; someone would be arrested in my home country for this!?!

For the past days, I have seen neither law enforcement (an unnecessary government expenditure for a law-abiding nation) nor homeless people in the eleventh most-populated country in the world, with a population of almost 127 million. I have not seen any rubbish or rubbish bins.

For the past days, I have neither sung karaoke (for obvious reasons) nor gone to a sumo wrestling match (I cannot stand sport).

"I toasted myself at the Hyatt Hotel in Shinjuku, the setting for the movie Lost in Translation. I wasn´t in my pyjamas, but rather trainers with three colours like a newly confirmed teenager."

Japan is not a flawless country even though it is enchanting in many ways. Rich people need to pay 45% high income tax (too bad for them), fruit is extremely expensive (grapes in Iceland are cheap by comparison), and there are limited offerings of food for greenies. Even prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, mouth and nose guards were fashion statements. Smoking in restaurants is common, yet smoking a vape is not allowed outside. Business for prostitution seems to be flourishing and the signs are everywhere. I was even enticed into a house of disrepute in my ignorance while trying to get out of the November rain. Often beauty is only skin deep and if it is possible to believe, it is said that bullying is thriving among school children. And as many undoubtfully know, suicide in this ideal country is among the highest in the world.   

After my stay in the East, I am more curious than ever before about Japanese customs, culture, and history. Adventurous Icelanders can learn much from this disciplined and stable nation.

Over the next few years, I propose that talking toilets with warm seats be owned by everyone in Iceland. Calmly exercise restraint and prioritise rest. Agree as a society that anyone can rest their eyes wherever and whenever they want, including at meetings and Christmas parties. And last of all, we should decisively develop within ourselves and the next generation the deep respect for others that the Japanese show in their work and everything else. Bow, no raised voices, always reach out both hands, and simultaneously back out through the door with respect for our fellow citizens.

The past few days, I have been alone in Tokyo, in light-blue pyjamas in a long hotel corridor with a group of people in the same type of pyjamas (I´ve heard of the bathrobe moment at the rehab centre). I´ve embraced the colourful splendour, population, and food. Looked at two out-of-order lifts and observed overbearing clocks that show different times in different cities.

I toasted myself at the Hyatt Hotel in Shinjuku, the setting for the movie Lost in Translation. I wasn´t in my pyjamas, but rather trainers with three colours like a newly confirmed teenager.

Tokyo sleeps as I begin my journey home to the long dark days of Icelandic winter. Two plump rats bid me farewell at the train station.

Journey ends.

words ingunn eyþórsdóttir
photos ingunn eyþórsdóttir