In Utero

Day 23 – Saturday, 20 April 2024

Anna and I head out without the boys into a lovely sunny morning and walk through the Shinjuku Gyoen garden, paying the 500 yen entry fee. The park is beautiful, and not too crowded, groups dotted around doing Saturday morning things, painting watercolours and attending a pre-school sports day. We watch some four year old running a relay race, followed by the same event for an older age group – the dads, who are almost as uniformly attired as their offspring, all but one in a white shirt and tan chinos. They don’t run any faster than the kids, nobody apparently wanting to do anything as indecorous and nonconformist as winning.

No, after you

We are on our way to Yūtenji, another former residential haunt of Anna’s. When we leave the local railway station, someone in the intervening thirty years has rotated either the suburb or Annabelle’s memory, because they’re now pointing in opposite directions. We walk past a florist as we leave the station, where I will later buy a pot of live, growing flowers to brighten up our Tōkyō apartment. A short ramble gets us to her former apartment building, a fairly claustrophobic place, and to the very door of her former home. This time we do knock, but no-one is prepared to admit to being home.

Romantic AF

On the way back to Shinjuku, Anna strikes up a conversation with a couple who, I deduce, are admiring the flowers I’m holding. I try to get out my phone to make some inconsequential remark but there, as elsewhere, brevity eludes me and they have left the train before I can push my quip up to Google for translation into Japanese.

The afternoon is spent in Kichijōji. Seb has found (online, where else?) a Pokémon meet up in Inokashira Park, south of the station and major shopping district. We find the group, in time for the group photo, and I get my first look at authentic Japanese Pokémon obsessives. One new friend is a woman in her mid-thirties, my guess, though my scales may not be terribly well calibrated. Many Japanese still look to me years younger than other clues might suggest, but short of buttonholing a random sample of adults and demanding to be told which birthday they celebrated last, I have no good way of finding out. Whatever her age, she seemed to me to be pestering Seb – her in Japanese, him in English, mediated as always by their phones – and I tried to extract him, only for her to follow. Anna, who of course knew far more than me about what was going on, wisely told me to shut up and butt out, except politely. Raf and I went shopping, where I bought him some Converse high tops and prayed silently that they’d get more than two wears.

Monster hunters

The big event of the day, though, was, strictly, mostly the big event of the following day, but the narrative starts here. Late in the evening, I took the train down to Shibuya, to Womb nightclub, where Richie Hawtin was on the decks. I imagine that I was the only person there older than the star DJ, but the chance to pretend that it was 1992 all over again was too much pull for this old technohead. Fortunately, the lighting was so low (the pic at the top of the page seriously overstates how bright it was in reality) that it might not have been too weirdly obvious that I was old enough to be the father of everyone else on the dance floor, which I hit pretty hard until about an hour into Hawtin’s set, when the latecomers compressed the available space into something closely resembling a mosh pit. Denied the space to express myself, I went downstairs to another section, where an attractive young woman whispered (alright, yelled) something in my ear. I stammered out my stock phrase explaining my incomprehension (私は日本語を話せません – Watashi wa Nihongo o hanasemasen, with shrug for emphasis), whereupon she repeated her earlier phrase, or so it seemed to me. Given the absolute freedom to choose, I elect to live out my days believing that she was telling me that I was devastatingly handsome and that I should call her sometime, although “what the fuck are you doing here, grandad?” cannot be ruled out. Using only sign language, I bludged a cigarette off her for old times’ sake and smoked it inside a nightclub, so who cares?

Eventually tiring of the crowd, I made my way home. Even Tōkyō goes to bed, or at least its train drivers do, so I walked back from Shibuya to Shinjuku and to the apartment, where my head hit the pillow at about 4am. Four Tet was due to play the same club in about twenty hours and, as I lost consciousness, I wondered if I might make it to that gig too. Age is just a number.


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