I’ve heard that smell is one of the most deeply remembered senses — more than vision, more than sound. Smell is something that you can get a whiff of something and it instantly takes you back to a familiarity you’d long-since forgotten. And oftentimes it isn’t even a smell you distinctly remember.
It’s been something like six and a half years (almost seven?) since I last set foot in Japan. The flight, disembarking, and navigating the airport were all almost disturbingly mundane feeling. I didn’t feel like I was halfway across the world. And when I stepped onto the subway train, I wasn’t hit with a sudden realization of distance, but rather of time. The car smelled a kind of damp, musty sweet that was remembered more in my body than in my mind. A wave of familiarity crept over me and took hold, nearly knocking me over for a moment.
I’m sure it was the smell of pollution and shampoo and cleaning agents.
It’s the smell of Tokyo.
And it smelled like a kind of home.
In the time since I got back from studying abroad in Japan, I’ve graduated college, worked as a mobile game designer, even gotten married. My life isn’t anywhere close to the same as it was back then. And reading over some of these old posts, I can see the difference, but at the same time I kind of can’t. I’m definitely not the same person that I was, and yet I feel like I’m maybe MORE the same person now than I was back then.
Maybe it’s just because I’ve done a lot more travelling since my early sojourn, but after some initial jitters about leaving my new wife alone for a week in America, the flight really wasn’t a problem. I read, played Monster Hunter, listened to music, etc… It was long and my back hated me, and there was a bit of the familiar, “Oh, man, we’re only halfway through, how am I going to last the rest of it?!” But on the whole it wasn’t a big deal for me. The time passed (I’ve gotten better at passing time without it feeling like it takes so long) and then we were landed and people were getting off.
I had directions for how to get where I’m staying — including pictures of specific spots in a couple different train stations. If you’ve ever been to a few train stations in Japan, you know that that maybe isn’t as helpful as it sounds. At the airport, I double checked some directions with attendants on my way and they handed me a map, circling where they thought I should change trains (which was different from the directions, but I trust those dudes/dudettes at the train stations pretty well). I got onto the train that they had indicated. It started moving.
The first two stops were exactly what I expected, and were indicated accurately on the map. Around the 4th stop, I started to wonder where I was. I was seeing station names that were listed along other lines — lines not connected to the one according to the map the gave me. But then every now and again a familiar station would come up that WAS on the indicated line.
I stuck it out, and eventually I figured out there was a back side to the map I had which DID actually display all the station names we’d been stopping at. Fortunately, the sense of calm when not being entirely sure where you’re going on the rail that I developed through living here for a year hadn’t completely left me in the time since. I just kind of rode it out, double-checking a little bit here and there when I wasn’t completely sure which line to ride when I transferred. And now here I am, safe and sound in a sort of sketchy-looking place (but the price was right, eh?) that’s sort of a cross between a run-down apartment, a hotel room, and a hostel.
It’s actually probably fine, I just grew up in middle-class America and so my expectation for quality of interior furnishing is probably a bit on the higher side. And anyway, “Japan sketchy” is really nothing to be concerned about.
Last thing… I THINK that this building might be situated maybe exactly over one of the terminal stations I used my second semester in Japan way back when I was a student. You know, that almost 7 years ago. I’ll have to look around a bit more in the daylight… but yeah… it’s kind of weird. XD