Up All Night

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Arcades, fitful sleep, cold tobacco, neon, wide screens, kawaii, arrows & AC in Aoyama.

Four thirty-two in the morning. Minus eight. Four, three, two…8:32 p.m. in my body and my brain. I can feel it. They do not want to go back to sleep. And they’re not going to.

I close my eyes again. All I see is this light. The one the overload of neon signs creates in the streets. The one that makes you feel it is the middle of the day even though the sky is pitch black. The one that is so fake yet so beautiful. The light that messes with your senses.

I open my eyes again. The light is gone but I know it is still close. I can feel it from up here, the eleventh floor of a building in Aoyama. It helps me distinguish the shape of the noisy AC, the tiny TV, the wall covered in Polaroids from the visitors who spent the night here before me. They are all looking at me.

Four forty-four. I really need to get back to sleep. With my eyes closed, I now see the infinite corridors of the giant subway stations. I see the constant flow of suits walking at full speed in the designated path. I follow the arrow. I follow the flow. I am guided by it and I get lost in it. I remember the yellowish light and the warmish breeze. I see discipline and elegance. No rushing, no bumping into each other, no becoming aggressive. As the subway doors open, I see immaculate velvet seats. I see people melting into them and into their neighbours as they fall asleep. I see absurd ads on repeat displayed on tiny screens. I see everyone in their own little bubble. And all I hear is silence. Everything quiet and calm. Heads bent over phone screens. Bodies gently moving as the train stops and starts again. The doors open. Here comes the warmish breeze and the quiet frenzy again. I look down. The arrows are here too, leading me to the way out. I can feel the craziness of Shibuya right above my head. But I am still stuck underground. I keep walking. Arrow after arrow. Jet lag hitting. Confusing signs multiplying. I just want out.

Everything kawaii. The rhythm of the drums. Fake gun sounds. Game-over jingles.

Four fifty. Tossing and turning. Not sleeping. Still thinking. I am so far away. From everyone I know. From everything I know. From home. I just want to be out there and absorb everything. Collecting memories and intangibles. Each and every sound, smell and sight. Each and every second of my time here. I want to soak it in. All of it.

The intense atmosphere in the rooms of arcade games. The excitement of first-time players. The well-thought-out strategies of regulars. Everything kawaii. The rhythm of the drums. Fake gun sounds. Game-over jingles. Coins swallowed by the machine. Girly giggles coming from the photo booth. A floor or two above, darker rooms. Dim blue lights and intense concentration. The smell of smoke and cold tobacco. Men only. Suit jackets taken off and sleeves rolled up.

Waiting at Shibuya crossing. The most fascinating of waiting times. Wanting it to be endless so I could just stay here and keep watching. Feeling the pulse of Tokyo’s heart. Being right in it. Nowhere to look but up. Wide screens. Bright lights. Vibrant colours. Crowds getting larger with every second. Holding my breath with the last car passing by. Just a moment of silence. A moment without movement before the wave hits the shore. Or before two facing waves gently collide, creating a few ripples along the way. Reaching the other side in no time. Feeling like I have never felt after crossing a street. A bit melancholic that I am never going to do this for the first time again. A bit disappointed that it all happened so quickly. Slightly overwhelmed by everything happening around. Feeling so small in that sea of giant buildings.

New scents and perfumes awakening stomach and taste buds. Small shops and food stands at every turn. Plastic dishes in window displays replacing menus. Secret restaurants hidden in plain sight, behind curtains or in the basement. Not seeing what is inside. Not seeing who is inside. Following my instinct. Following the locals. Ordering a ramen from a vending machine. Waiting in the tiny lobby. Feeling amused by how everything is so big on the outside and so small once inside. Being led to a corridor-like dining room. A series of stools fixed to the floor, facing the hidden kitchen, and, at the very end of it, the one waiting for me. Wooden shutters on each side. Not seeing anyone else and not being seen. Overhearing the hustle coming from the kitchen. And, suddenly, the long-awaited ramen appearing. A pair of hands methodically pulling the blind and placing the steaming bowl right in front of me. The first bite. Meat melting in my mouth. Sipping loudly like everyone else. Just to be polite.

My eyes open. And here I am again. Awake. Same small room. The AC and TV have not moved an inch. My back is hurting a little. My mouth is dry. I feel like I could finally fall asleep. Yet all I want to do is leave this bed. I have no idea what the time is. I can see through the curtains that the night is finally gone outside. I am reaching for my phone and find myself smiling at what I see. It is two minutes to alarm-clock time. Two minutes to getting dressed and getting out of here. Two minutes ’til I can get back to what I had started the night before. Collecting memories and intangibles. Each and every sound, smell and sight. Each and every second of my time here. All of it.

Marion Pont is as French as her name sounds and is only getting started with writing. Just recently back in France after two years in the Netherlands that sparked her interest in putting into words her travel experiences, she’s already planning to set sail to Japan—a land that has already inspired her many stories—for a year. She may be reached at marion.pont@gmail.com.

Lead image: Sebastian Muller

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