Monday, January 07, 2008

A Journey into the Future of the Fresh Old Past.

My arrival in Tokyo in 1990 and my subsequent two years there, impressed me so much with their freshness of change that it all forever remained as “something new” in my memory. New people, new customs, new food, a new girlfriend, new trips to new cities- it was all so ultramodern, futuristic, it made me feel like I had been born again. The house I stayed in, the parking lot next to it, the homes of the neighbors I used to visit, it all stayed forever au-courant in my consciousness. Plus, the Japanese future-oriented life philosophy made me feel like I was always on the cutting edge of everything, boldly moving into the ever-unfolding afterward.

When I was in Japan in 2007, I decided to visit my old “haunts” and I was in deep shock. Since part of me always lived in that futuristic and forever in-the-present memory of my past in Japan, upon landing at my old subway station, I was filled with deep depression. I used to live and work in the Musashino area of Tokyo, and it became like my second home, but now, I could barely recognize the place.

Well, it was natural because such a long time did go by, but because it did not feel like seventeen years had elapsed, I felt like I was transported into a strange cold “future” of that present-like past. The station had been rebuilt, and I could not find the exit out of it for a very long time. The main street looked completely different, most stores that I used to frequent had been gone; they had widened the roads and I was raoming around wondering if it was the same street that I used to live in; but the biggest shock was when I went to see the house where I spent one year. I could barely find it, and the houses around it were also gone for the most part. Not only that, the new houses built in their place looked old and jaded with dirty streaks of rain water marks all over them. Old moss drew ugly designs on the lower part of the walls. The wood of many a door looked old and rotting. I wondered around like a ghost in a ghost town.

I went to the university where I used to teach and, because it was summer vacation and there were no people there, it looked sad and deserted. Where were all those students I taught? All those teachers that I was friends with? Did 17 years really go by? You mean those 18 year old students were now 35? And the ones who were 23 were now 40? You mean the 67 year old professor who took me around Tokyo was now 84? Was he even alive?

There is a new sign in Roman alphabet proclaiming the name of the university- it used to be in Kanji before. There are new buildings around it, streets that look new. But the memory of 1990 is there so fresh and so recent, like it was yesterday and, as if, in just a few months I have been transported to a distant future I which I now reside with the freshness of yesteryear suddenly becoming a moldy, moss-covered old past.

I approach the guard booth and sheepishly smile at the watchman inside of it. “ I was a teacher here seventeen years ago”. He looks at me and just says, “ Ooooooooohhhhh!” There is a strange look in his eyes: “How long ago! You must be feeling very nostalgic about the whole thing”. I bow and leave. Get on the Shinjuku bound train and never look back. The whole thing was sad to the max. Super sad. Visiting such old homes is not for those with weak hearts or a sentimental streak on tier character. It can depress the living lights out of you. For the future oriented people like myself, it was not a happy experience.

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