The film that has done the most to ingratiate Tokyo to Western audiences over the past few years has to be Lost in Translation. The first time I saw it was towards the end of my first stint in Japan, and for some inexplicable reason made me feel a huge wave of nostalgia.
The first couple of months in Japan had streaked through my life like a Sunday morning train from Roppongi station (and I know all about those, much to displeasure of my bank account). I can’t say I was able to spend my time exploring the fascinating new country that lay beneath my feet, as my feet were usually trying their best to avoid stepping on the hyperactive throng of kindergarten kids I was supposed to be teaching. This miserable situation was compounded by my dismal surroundings: an apartment that, in any other country, would have been deemed too inhospitable for even the most savage of serial killers. The walls were made of toast. Toast made from very, very thinly sliced bread. I could hear the humming sound of my neighbours-neighbours fridge as clearly as if I had been wearing it for a hat.
Thankfully, I was able to move to a different city after a couple of months, and was befriended by a number of my fellow countrymen, who wasted no time in regaling me with their colourful accounts of life in this wonderful prefecture they called Saitama – “the Essex of Japan.”
Yes, together, we were the most negative group of individuals mankind had ever seen, but spend a few months in Saitama and you would understand. Its proximity to Tokyo invariably led to comparison, and an ever-present feeling that incredibly exciting things were going on just a bit further down the train line, just ever so slightly out of reach. And yet, here we were, with only our local video rental shop and Seven-Eleven’s for entertainment.
To be fair to Saitama the majority of complaints were made against our employers, who seemed to take great pride in screwing us over at every possible opportunity (and from what I’ve heard recently, still do). For me, every single Monday afternoon was hell on earth: Abandoned in the lowly confines of a scabby franchise school in the suburban wilderness with only a severe receptionist for company, whose only hobby – wrestling – incidentally happened to be first sport I would choose to be wiped from the entirety of human history. Add to that six hours of almost continuous kids lessons, and I was beginning to see the logic behind those lost souls who choose to jump in front of speeding express trains.
But as time passed, things began to fall into place. Those once-stressful days at work became carefree and routine, the holidays were long, and the weekends were for a good night out.
Eleven months after arriving in Japan, as I watched Bill Murray lovingly perform “More Than This” in some random karaoke box, at some random time way past normal people’s bedtime, I realised that it would be exactly those kind of things I would miss the most about Japan. The little things, the unusual things, the things that couldn’t happen anywhere else. I returned home one month later. But, as fate would have it, I wasn’t to return for long…