The Airport is hot and overcrowded, there is no fresh air. I ask myself “when did I become so sensitive?” I never used to notice these things, but now I can’t get comfortable anywhere with air con and no natural light or open windows.
Standing in slow moving queues, walking through corridors with waves of travellers, I love all the deeply personal insights you pick up on. A man wearing a kippah and tallit is receiving assistance from airport staff and introduces them to his son “This is my son, my beautiful boy” – the sense of pride in his voice visible to the stranger’s ear – clear as day and perhaps more pronounced due to the cliff edge moments airports provide.
The security control part feels efficient at Heathrow, staff are offering transparent plastic bags for anyone who’s forgotten to bring one. The Jewish man appears again but alone this time – we’ve passed through a gate and he’s had to say goodbye to his son – he takes one of the bags and turns to me and asks – whats this for? I want to take him for a coffee, what an interesting guy – so many questions pop into my head. Where on earth have you been mate? and ….can you take me there? “Liquids” I manage to say as I hold up my own bag and show him my deodrant. “Oh, I don’t have liquids” he says. I smile. He turns away, and we will never ever see each other again.
People are eating all around me, seeking solace in snacks. There’s a yoghurt granola strawberry pot being inhaled to my left, a doughnut moment so sensual across to the right I feel I shouldn’t look, and opposite me a girl stretches her legs at full length as she slowly devours a Pret tuna sandwich on brown, cleverly using her backpack as a foot rest in a well rehearsed move of self care that has, frankly, to be applauded. Maybe I’m hungry.
All the lights/advertisements inside the building start to blur and I wonder if my eyesight’s getting worse? ‘BAGUETTES/SANDWICHES/HOT/WRAPS/ SALAD/GAME CHANGING”
It’s an avalanche, a bombardment of ads and leaves me feeling sick.
“Go to Gate B47.” Ok, that’s me. “Yon Ju Nana” is the tannoy announcement that greets me once I get to the right bit of Heathrow that feels familiar to me now, having Yo-Yo’d between Japan and the UK these past four years. Once you reach this bit it feels a step closer to Japan, people with masks, people with napkins eating neatly, even the snacks themselves appear neater, the picnic tupperware pristine, mothers encouraging their kids to brush teeth after snacking, Kids with snoopy merch, adults with snoopy merch. Men so thin they look like mid 70s thin white duke, and simply ill by modern day standards in England. Japan is approaching.
Once aboard the flight there’s a young woman giving instructions to her family on how to use the inflight entertainment. Her grandmother is Japanese, her father appears dual heritage, she is beautiful. They look like a happy family and I love observing their harmony. Taiga might be like that, one day, as we travel between the two lands together. I can dream.
The passenger nexts to me holds her phone up to capture the ‘on board camera’ on the screen on the back of the seat in front of her. The image on the screen is the view from the window – if you count the camera lens as a screen that’s at least 4 glass screens in motion – it all feels decidedly glass age. I prepare to observe the UK via the glass for the next little while…
When the flight attendant wants to talk with the person sitting opposite me, she gets down on her knees in the aisle next to her seat. From this angle she can look the passenger in the eyes – her body language is levelling and humble. This sort of respect feels very Japanese.
I tune into an NHK News broadcast on the in flight entertainment. Traffic reports suggest there is traffic jam of 20k (!) on the roads leading back to Japan tonight! It was a bank holiday weekend, they had Friday off, so I guess a lot of people are now returning to the city for the monday morning rush. But that is a seriously long traffic queue, based on nothing other than congestion. A lot of people in one space.
Today (Sunday Nov 5th) is Tsunami Awareness Day – residents are encouraged to ‘RUN’ as a Tsunami warning might leave only 3 minutes to escape it’s path, no time to deliberate.
It strikes me how relatively safe we are on our island (UK), and it can be difficult for us to comprehend such risk. I find myself wondering if this looming threat has any wider impact on society in Japan? Does it make some people more cautious, living under a cloud of fear?
The sound of babies crying – what we put them through on flights! It’s crazy really isn’t it. Poor little things have no idea what the hell is going on.
I Can Smell You
13 hours pass, my mouth is dry and my body feels like it’s seizing up but we eventually reach Japan. As we cross the Japan sea and begin our descent I’m greeted by the night sky of Tokyo. It’s about 6pm local time, the sun is sleeping and the city is illuminated like a bed of stars. I know you’re there Taiga, you can eat your dinner, carry on as normal, and I won’t disturb your routine. I’ll be back soon and i’ve missed you so much. Every morning when I’ve woken up, every long drive, every time in that quiet bit just before I go on stage, it doesn’t fade, it hasn’t changed and I am with you always. But tonight i’ll be in your apartment too. I’ve got presents for you. Don’t feel guilty – you deserve them. You deserve everything Taiga.
I stay seated as my fellow passengers alight. I’m not in a rush. I’m here for 6 months.
A guy stands up across the way with an Oasis T shirt on, as he reaches for the overhead locker above his seat I get a full view of his impressive Tattoos – a regular sight in the UK but not so common in Japan. Tattoos are frowned up here, swimming pools have signs up banning people with Tattoos.
The lad in front has left his wallet behind, poor kid. He’s not around now, I’ll hand it in.
Inside the airport and I’m on the travellator gliding down a long corridor, in motion and back on wifi just like the guy next to me… ‘BACK IN JAPAN’ is the text I read on his screen as he creates an instagram post. There’s a body temperature check and we don’t have to do it – the first sign things are more relaxed than my previous times I’ve entered Japan.
The airport staff wear face masks and white gloves as they repeat instructions to tired passengers who file into lines. I feel overcome with emotion. as I step onto the land – I can almost reach out and hold his hand. I’m here Taiga.
The other side of security and I hear people are saying “Oh my God! so pleased to see you” people are being greeted, I love this bit of airports – where such an outpouring of love is supported and understood. I wish Taiga was here, but I know where he is and head to my bus.
The local bus terminal is outside. I’m grateful for the air, but the heat hits hard. 23 degrees here in the dark of the evening and it engulfs you. I feel silly carrying the heavy winter coat I put on in Wolverhampton when I left 36 hours ago.
Upon arrival at the flat I’m so excited. I knock the front door and he comes to greet me. I stand in the doorway and he stands back. He knows he’s not allowed to hug me until i’ve washed and changed clothes, but he shouts out “I can smell you!” “Is that a good thing or a bad thing?!” I say. “Good” he says.
We have a bond nothing and no one can ever take away. A link invisible to the naked eye. But we sense it all the time. A smell, the feel of his old Wolves shirt, the sound of his voice, and it’s all stuff you miss out on when you’re stuck behind the glass on zoom.
This is the essence of life, our crown jewels, the pot at the end of the rainbow, the point of it all. Thanks for reminding me of this, Taiga.