18 Nov A Drop in the Ocean
WANDERING AROUND TOKYO STATION provides countless ways for a foreigner to get lost. Some of the best ramen shops in the city can be found here — sadly, we weren’t here for the ramen. It was December 23rd, 2019, the day before Christmas Eve. In a few months, the world would change forever.
The last day of a month in Japan with my best friends had come — I was the lone traveler.
My flight from Tokyo to Los Angeles wasn’t until later in the evening. I had the rest of the day to spend lost in the heart of the sprawling metropolis with my thoughts and a worthy hangover from celebrating our final night in Japan.
I left my bags in one of the underground lockers, taking a picture and praying I wouldn’t forget the location. There must have been thousands of lockers stretching for miles, yet I rarely passed another soul walking the dimly lit halls beneath the madness up above. I was floating through train station purgatory.
When I found my way to the surface, I left the station and stepped into the bright winter’s day; not a cloud drifted through the sky. I breathed deeply. For the first time, I felt completely alone.
I started to walk.
I headed toward Jinbocho, a neighborhood known for its relaxed vibe with used bookstores and coffee shops. My body was sore but I trekked on, circling the Eastern Gardens of the Imperial Palace and snapping pictures of the verdant and perfectly tailored Dr. Seuss-looking trees — small trees that look as if shrunken, and big trees that look magnified — as well as anything else which caught my attention.
The streets were lined with purple and white Christmas lights which reflected off the pristine skyscrapers. Vendors sold trinkets and bright red poinsettias, and the highway bustled with the typical ferocity of any normal Tokyo day.
Endless waves of yellow and black taxis flowed by like schools of fish — everybody with somewhere to go and somebody to be — every person living a life of their own with dreams and desires, fears and regrets.
In a city like Tokyo or New York or London, you encounter so many other human beings that they become one endless stream of movement. No longer individuals, but people.
And that’s what we are, a collective entity, but even lost amongst the mass, we retain our silly thoughts and greatest fears. Our unique dreams don’t die — we are still an I. We become a single drop in a waterfall; it can be exciting to be a part of something rushing somewhere. But when the crashing water settles, what are we left with? Who are we then?
There’s unimaginable depth to every human, just as there is to each neighborhood in Tokyo, just as there is to every city, every country, every thought.
Yet so often we remain on the surface of experience, when an entire ocean exists beneath. I want to build my life upon digging deeper — spending a month in this beautiful and complex country made me certain of it, as certain as I can be right now. Because in digging, in wondering about the world and actively confronting it, we illuminate the depths of our own soul.
We grow. We learn. We continue.
I was one amongst millions in Tokyo — that’s what it felt like. But then one of those millions catches your eye and makes you think, and makes you see the world as made up of billions of billions of individuals striving to find their way.
An elder man rode a bike through the gates of the Imperial Palace. I stood there laughing to myself, wondering how many times he’s made this commute through the ancient wooden beasts. It was a sight I’ll never forget.
I MADE IT TO Jinbocho, searching for last-minute gifts to bring home for Christmas. I perused a bookstore with old sepia-tinted books and classic Hiroshige art prints stacked in crates by the front of the shop.
Inside it felt like a miniature version of the store in which Harry Potter buys his wand — classic black and white photos covered the walls; antiques teetered on every corner; books with frail, loose sheets were haphazardly stacked to the ceiling.
A man appeared, nested within the infrastructure of pages — I wondered when I’d be seeing you, Vincent-San.
I bought several prints and books that opened like an accordion. I began my journey back to the station under the radiant blue sky. It turned orange and melancholy in the evening as the train drifted over Tokyo Bay towards the airport. The day felt appropriate — it was a beautiful goodbye.
At home on Christmas Eve, I sat outside on the patio, looking into the clear black sky. I didn’t know what to say. I should have been happy, right? My family was inside; yet I couldn’t have known this would be the last family gathering for some time. I hadn’t seen them in a month, yet I was outside with tears in my eyes, a bit delirious.
The scenes from the past month flashed through my mind. But I could hardly put my thoughts into words.The trip had changed me. More than that. It awakened me to what, perhaps, I’m on this earth to do. That’s how we know, right? When we do something that gives us unwavering energy and joy and a sense of purpose, perhaps we should adhere to that feeling?
But I couldn’t say that. Maybe I could, and didn’t know how.
Waves of emotion surged through me — waves of light and dark, joy and confusion. Maybe I just needed to let myself feel it. Yet it was Christmas Eve, and of course I wanted to be there for it. But this was more than just a trip with friends. I fell in love with Japan, but I also caught a glimpse of what I’m meant to do, at least for this season of my life. It was hitting me.
My dad saw me outside and joined me. The stories began to unravel. Where the hell do I begin. I knew this wasn’t the end, but another step on the journey I’ve been on all along.
I couldn’t have imagined that I’d be here almost two years later, writing about this day with a glint in my eye and a desire to return for an extended period; I couldn’t have imagined that the next two years would open up my heart and strengthen my spirit, precisely because I thought it had been restrained. I have so much, and if this time has given me anything, it’s gratitude. It’s joy. It’s love.
I will continue seeking, continue learning, and continue living with a full heart as a single drop in this ocean of existence.