Tokyo by Bullet

Tokyo stinks of fish and beer — at least, this tiny compartmentalized version of Japan’s first city does. The thin, gray plastic armrest beneath the window looking out at a metropolis in hyperlapse is adorned with a half-empty can of Asahi Super Dry, the sent of chilled malt filling the immediate area with the scent of a night out. The freshly opened package of squid jerky — saki ika in local parlance — blankets the compartment in a salty, sweet haze, invisible to the eye, but dense enough that the passenger in the seat next to me visibly tilts away from the noxious vittles.

I’m genuinely sorry to bother her, but I can’t be bothered to say as much. I press my head to the convex glass of the window, just in time to see the crimson spire of Tokyo Tower make a few brief appearances between man-made mountains climbing increasingly higher toward the sky; the rain, so light it’s nearly a mist, catches the orange-yellow glow off the tower, seeming to set the atmosphere alight around it.

The frame of the landmark inspires equal parts excitement and regret as it teases its appearance, the Cloverfield Monster in my own personal kaiju revival film. The stink of cheap self-medication, the want for something more than a small room full of people you barely know for eight hours of training — this is all I know of the capital. These experiences make Anthony Bourdain out to be a liar; where is the revelation, the “life before acid and life after acid” I was promised in so many travelogues? I see only the cinereal high rise punctuated by the occasional alleyway. Where are the neon-inflamed pathways that Lost in Translation promised?

Tokyo, seen at the speed of a bullet train, at least, hardly seems the part it’s so often allowed to play.