On a Monday evening I walk twenty minutes from Haneda to a small hotel near the airport. The air is cool and dry, the way cleanly paved, and the passers-by mostly on bicycle until the last few blocks. The sun has set. Most of those similarly walking have just left work. It’s the kind of Tokyo evening that will always feel familiar: the quiet walk to the station, ride home, and quick dinner or groceries in a familiar neighborhood. I have never been to this stretch of Haneda-adjacent Tokyo, but it is not unknown. As per my goal, I’ve spent enough time here to be comfortable.
My mind drifts as I walk, between distant locations. This is expected. I am just off a flight from San Francisco, and only outside tonight because of a missed connection. I think of family in Hong Kong an hour behind, just starting to wrap up the workday. I think of my friend, arrived back in LA after our weekend together in Oakland. And I think of my colleagues, now scattered across the US again after our week together in Walnut Creek. Briefly I consider my friends, now scattered to the US and UK, with whom I would have stayed or eaten with on previous Tokyo stops like this. Last, and only once I find the hotel, do I consider Tokyo, my plans for the evening, what I’d like to do. Part of this is due to the unplanned nature of the visit, the unexpected reality of being in Tokyo at all. Part though is because my mind is scattered, pulled at by the remote nature of my job, of my friends, and of our life. As Yoda said, “All his life has he looked away to the future, the horizon.” I would add the pull is that of the unknown, of the different. That pull is strong.
Combatting that pull is a depth of friendship only possible after twenty five years, that allowed my best friend and I to spend a weekend together on the deepest topics, without pre-amble or a pause to catch up. We did, of course, watch sports and go through the mundane details of our current lives, but mostly we focused on the things we can discuss with no one else, the questions for ourselves that only someone with twenty five years of context can help clarify. It’s valuable time, made all the more so because of it’s rarity. Call it twenty hours.
Moving, really relocating, fractures our lives into segments. There are friends from our home town, friends from university, from our first job, from our first city. Friends from Tokyo, from Shanghai, from Houston, SF, and Hong Kong. There are friends met in places we have never lived, on frisbee fields mostly, but also from jobs. And all of these people, like us, have scattered, have spiraled out until we have friends in Austin, where we’ve only briefly ever been, from five or six different segments of life. Likewise Seattle and Boston. Manila holds not only friends but families of friends, and more connections. Shenzhen, a frequent work stop, holds dozens of former colleagues in long-since failed startups. For work we have been all over Korea, Japan, and Taiwan, making friends and acquaintances. And each of these groups exerts a pull, a sense of comfort and place we could return. Each one makes, in some small way, the next move to the unknown harder.
They make keeping our eyes on where we are require more focus.
And yet I am here, in Tokyo, wandering small streets with a Californian originally from Belarus who I met in the airport. We eventually eat ramen and return to our separate rooms, immaculate and tiny. Watching him navigate the Japanese menus and ticket machines I’m happy. Here is Japan, the voice in my mind says, familiar and unique. How lucky we are to see it again after so long.
For a night, that is enough.