This is a place where I don’t feel alone, this is a place where I feel at home

japan_tokyo_shimbashi-station_food-stalls_43725 a.m. I found myself unable to sleep in a business hotel of the Minami-Ku district of Toyko, so I thought to walk.

Of course referring to it this way is misleading. The set up: the suggestion that I travel professionally, and could call out districts in Tokyo by name is absurd. I rely wholely on my husband, who just yesterday answered a friend’s question by calling on our hotel by name and location. He said this in Japanese, and then translated for me, because he is a Japanese man.

But that doesn’t make this locale any more unknown, and I’m pretty proud of myself for waking too early and taking to the streets. In jeans and an unadorned face I left a silent lobby – taking pains (and because I was hungry, pangs!) to follow the path of my husband from when we first arrived. I took escalators down into the subways underbelly, using as lifelines the still closed shops I saw the day prior. Shops as small as a bathroom – shops with logos in minimalist paisley fonts, and absolute French names, “Le Petite Monseur”, “Rue d’ Arc”, that sat sandwiched between ticket vending machines and early to open- late to close ramen shops. They’d look like an afterthought if not for the slight slice of light breaking through the closed curtain fitted against the door frame. To look in was a show in itself, a key hole diharama of perfectly placed pencil holders and lace outfitted hand bags. The pretty positioning of merchandise – the unabashed need to be seen as something so French – had all the hallmarks of forethought. Somehow this shop, in many different iterations – of different names and with varying doorways – seemed to be everywhere.

You can get lost in this dawnbreak window shopping. And I did, so much so that when I turned around the subway grew. What was two men in short sleeve white oxford shirts, racing escalators when I first left had grown into a militia of salary men and women! The steady stream of determined faces blanked past me at dizzying speed. With few exceptions I saw man after man after woman, stony faced, moving mechanically toward some turnstile – some running, others progressing rank-in-file. Because I’d returned to trace my steps I was one of very few walking opposite this mass.

It’s not easy to oppose organization away from home. I didn’t know where to turn – to whom and if then I should apologize? Could I duck into a coffee shop? Hope for wifi and call up work emails – thinking myself just as busy – if not more! – than the sea of salary before me.

I wanted to do something local, convinced myself it was the motivating factor behind this morning jaunt. That my body wasn’t fighting jet lag – it was fighting for adventure. For a dying chance to make the most of day 2 in Tokyo. Somehow I convinced myself that it was very dangerous to be idle for even one day, less I lose momentum – should this opportunity fade as quickly as adventures past.

I did NOT want to go to Starbucks, I reasoned. I wanted to do as that business man in a slightly tinted oxford did – so I followed him, stealthily. I watched him move away from the train turnstiles and out to the street. He moved with such ease – such urgency – that the follow felt more thrilling than the discovery. No sooner did we breech the hot open air of a Tokyo side street than he escaped into a low hanging doorway – a bunting of kanji strung taut across the frame.

I watched him disappear and didn’t know what to do. Did he enter a place I didn’t belong? Was he at work – something mundane that would warrant too much translation and explanation were I to enter? Or was he someplace salacious – the entrance to a den of sin my imagination likened to foreign inhabitants. The trade secret of the working Japanese man. Perhaps I thought this out of fear for my husband – worrying he may assimilate- dismiss me as another white legged lady – clearly lost – in thought or direction – so close while so unaware of the exciting promise of this city.

It was neither. Sense kicked in not to admonish me my story line, but in smell. It was a ramen shop. I breathed in the sticky scent of simmering pork that clung to the humid air and sloughed off my skin like a Chinese recipe. He was only eating ramen – when I focused on the reality of the situation I could hear the successive slurps of noodles. The streets weren’t noisy, but were full of sound as the business march carried on, and the slurps continued in metered time, like a heart beat. Slurp, slurp. This seemed my exotic chance!

Ramen for breakfast? Why not?! Even as I thought through the logistics – how to order without my husband’s helping hand – what to order when I was certain I didn’t want pork in broth so early – I found myself moving back. Getting swallowed into the sea of moving professionals and leaving my chance behind – the noodle sounds waning until they termed.

This all sounds more dramatic than it is. I found a bakery and sit here now, eating red beans baked into a scored pastry. I ordered coffee. I said I’d have it hear. I intimated all of this in a language I’ve failed to know and can watch what feels like the whole of the city process in front of me.

Something struck me as I found my way in this cafe. It’s okay that I didn’t eat ramen. I’m so hard on myself for being adventure-less as I’m in the very thick of adventure. Being one of none long legged brunettes – jockeying for position – hitting the streets because there was no reason not to – may be the start of something.

I mean, after all those twists and turns, I still need to find my way back.

Shimbashi Station
Tokyo, Japan
7:48 am., Monday, September 2, 2013