TOKYO, THE UNREAL CITY

MARIKO NAGAI

Here, in Tokyo, when an outsider comes, they come with an image of Tokyo: a metropolis, futuristic in its neon signs and high-rise buildings: the efficiency and punctuality of its people and all they touch: where the old ways of living smoothly inhabit the place of the modern: the East but not the East, and the West but not the West. Images they bring with their suitcases often collide with the real, and reality is as elusive as dreams, for this is the city made up of the dreams of the outsiders, a phantom, a city built with the imagination. People take on the city; they recreate it, redefine it. But they do not know that they are living in a dreamscape of their own making. That they are bringing their hopes into a space that is waiting to be filled, but they do not see that the city itself laughs at their – our – foolishness. That there is a narrative in its invisibility.

Hasn’t someone said this already? Have I heard all of this before? Nevertheless. Nevertheless.

It must’ve always been like this: cities created, then abandoned or destroyed, each new city built on top of the ghosts of the cities before. From the dirt road trodden hard into submission by men; then horses’ hooves; then thick layers of asphalt that crack open as if in protest, as if the earth underneath is restless. From dirt to black tar, which crumbles under feet and time, we put on layer after layer of foundation, so that like the make-up of actors, the sights presented are far removed from the original. It is lost. It is forgotten. Rivers shaped to fit our will, and now, their water stilled, filled with the broken artifacts of culture. Thousands and thousands of people cross the canals and rivers of various sizes morning and night: meanwhile, a patient sits on her bed in a hospital in the city, tracing the outlines of the buildings on her window.

The city is ablaze. The city is awake at all hours. Someone is always awake: at three a.m., a young man stands behind the counter of a convenience store looking bored, and a man enters. He looks around. Then settles himself in front of the magazine rack; across the street, the baker wakes up to start his day. The city is seismic, in motion. How many times has the city been destroyed, lay in ruin, and rebuilt? Every quarter of a century, the city lies in ruin. Fires. Dead bodies. Earthquakes. Volcanic eruptions. And soon, the city becomes reanimated, the dreams of people reinfusing the charred space like a reincarnated soul. The city built on the unclaimed dead and lost dreams and untold stories. Nevertheless. Nevertheless, what of the living?