Yesterday was my last day as a resident of Shinjuku-ku, one of the most well known of the 23 wards that make up the city of Tokyo. I lived in West Shinjuku, right next to the headquarters of the Tokyo Metropolitan Government and the Park Hyatt, where Lost in Translation was filmed. I lived within shooting distance of Kabukicho, the famed red-light district, Ni-chome, the main gay district, and other tourist destinations such as placid, dreamy Shinjuku Gyoen (park) and rowdy Golden Gai, a ramshackle alley full of tiny bars and drunken salarymen.
As you probably know, Tokyo is the most populous metropolitan area in the world so to identify your presence amidst the sprawl, each address is distinguished by its ward, its district (chome), city block, and building number. Thus my old address was 3-13-4 Nishishinjuku, Shinjuku-ku, Tokyo. I stayed for a year in a share house composed of 11 rooms and one grungy shower for about 13-14 people. It was fully furnished, very near 3 different train stations, and next door to a small grocery store, but it was also cramped, old, and funny smelling. I mainly lived there to save money. My housemates were a veritable cast of characters including a potential hikikomori whose pallor and thick glasses suggested he never left the house (that and I never saw him leave the house), a young Japanese man who came home late in his starched suits, an alcoholic East Asian PhD student seeking a Japanese wife, an Australian and a Taiwanese couple on working holiday, a Japanese woman in her 40s who seemed to only eat green smoothies, a Nepalese man whose resting scowl would reveal pearly white teeth when I waved to him as he chainsmoked on the stoop, and my one friend in the house, a jolly Mexican filmmaker on sabbatical.
I will miss turning down the familiar side streets after a long night of work or play, pulling the tassle on the small paper lamp to illuminate my heart. My tiny room hosted so many friends and cuddles in my twin sized bed. Solitary evenings spent with a book in hand, sliding the frail wooden window to light a candle or feel the breeze from the street below; hearing the rain’s comforting clatter; shimmying with the fragile building during earthquakes. This place was the first home I had in Japan. The door I would swing open after a trip away, and the bed I would fall into with a sigh of relief at being done with the day’s frenzy. As lowly as the environs were, a piece of me was created in this place. The part that tells me that yes, I can thrive in a foreign place alone. The tears that were shed over love, loneliness, and self-doubt were not lost here. These walls were my silent companions and my retreat when I felt that the hectic world outside was too much to endure. I learned and grew so much in this year; the self-reflection and my intimacy with the place that cradled me during this time will not be forgotten.
But, I am fully ready to move into a real apartment in a quieter residential neighborhood in Northeastern Tokyo full of young artisans and families. The area is known as a traditionally shitamachi district, meaning it was historically inhabited by the merchant and working class. It feels grittier and lacks the artifice of the chrome skyscrapers and department stores of Shinjuku. I have 3 roommates in my new 4 bedroom apartment: Narumi and Ryo, and Eugene, a fellow American and longtime expat in Japan. I will be living across the street from my best friend in Tokyo, Kelly-chan, and the commute to my office is much shorter. The rent is cheaper, the place is bigger, cleaner, and more secure; an all around lifestyle upgrade. We have a guest room now too, so come visit!
Shinjuku-ku is where the story started and I will always think of it fondly. So I say with bittersweetness and eyes for new adventures: Onwards to Taito-ku!
xo your friend alice
Locaton: Shinjuku-ku and Taito-ku, Tokyo, Japan