Episode 1 : Going to Tokyo
Shoko was flying from Toronto to Tokyo, waking up to the muffled engine. The airplane was bouncing a little. Somewhere in the cabin, a baby was crying. Her entire body ached. The stale air amplified her discomfort. She was desperate for fresh air.
One eye opened, and met the dull grey of the airline seat. After a few blinks, the other eye saw the word glowing on the screen: “EnRoute.”
The woman next to her started putting on makeup. Restlessness spread like a disease in the cabin. One after another, passengers stood up, stretched their limbs, opened the overhead compartments, and reorganized their bags.
December 31st 2014 was when Shoko boarded the plane in Toronto. The flight took off and travelled westward against time. When she woke up, 2014 was already gone. The screen in front of her showed the origin time and the destination time, both showing the time was New Year’s Day. She wondered when the new year started on this plane. She had no idea. She slept over it. Flight attendants were now handing out immigration cards to the passengers.
The card asked her for her personal infomation.
Edwards was Shoko’s family name. When married, she had a choice to keep her Japanese family name but took this one instead. Very happily. Her maiden name Suzuki was the most common in Japan, and she hated its banality. She thought Edwards sounded more distinguishable, doors open in all directions, if paired with her first name Shoko.
She couldn’t remember if her husband, Alan, was involved in this name choosing. They probably talked about it. Most likely, she had asked him what he would prefer. There should have been other options such as hyphenating their last names or keeping Suzuki as the middle name. Probably Alan didn’t care and told her off that it should be up to her. That might be why she couldn’t remember how the other options were eliminated.
Shoko Edwards. But after living in Canada more than two decades, her name wasn’t so unique after all. As it turned out, Toronto had a myriad of peoples from all over the world, and she was just one tiny drop in the ocean. Another banality.
Her mind drifted to her coming days in Tokyo. Alan had taken an offer to work there for the next three months. Shoko decided to tag along. So she quit her job in Toronto. There was nothing that she would miss about that administrative job.
At the arrival lobby of Haneda International Airport, a sea of black hair waited in anticipation, which made it easy for her to spot Alan, tall and blond. They hugged and kissed. The other people there greeted each other with Japanese words and patting their shoulders, not so much with hugs and kisses. Alan snatched the handle of Shoko’s bigger suitcase out of her hand and started swimming in the crowd as if he had lived in Tokyo all his life.
Left with her smaller suitcase, she slowly followed his confident strides while allowing herself to look around. Japanese writing on every billboard. Her eyes jumped awake by all these letters that were square and bigger and bolder. Her ears were inundated with the Japanese sounds — beeps, ringtones, and constant recorded or live announcements — that came from everywhere. She let them fill a part of her that was long gone missing. She cast her eyes to Japanese women passing by, particularly of her own age, for their hairstyles, makeup, and clothes. Without thinking, she slowed down in front of a glass window to look herself in the reflection; her hair tied up, geeky eyeglasses, khaki cargo pants and slate blue fleece that she couldn’t remember when she had bought.
“Can you pick up speed?” said Alan. “Let’s get to our apartment first, drop off these bags and go out somewhere for dinner. OK?”
Shoko picked up her pace. The two were about to live in Ookayama, the south end of Tokyo. As he rolled her suitcase, he told her different routes from Haneda to Ookayama; Line 1 to Line 2, Line 1 to Line 3 and transfer to Line 2, Bus to Line 2, and so on. There seemed to be an infinite number of ways to get there. She listened to him in amusement and wondered how long this conversation could last. She noticed the way Alan pronounced the word Ookayama. He stressed the first Oh and paused a tiny bit and said the rest okayama. There was another city called Okayama, 600km away from Tokyo. And it was a well-known tourist destination. But Ookayama was just 30 minutes away and only known to people living in Tokyo. Shoko wondered if mispronunciation of this extra ‘o’ had sent some foreigners who intended to visit Ookayama to Okayama.
“Did you confuse Ookayama with Okayama when you first arrived here?”
“Nope. I’ve got my smartphone. Just asked it.” Alan held his phone up. He didn’t even try to turn around to face her.
Shoko rolled her eyes only halfway. Then Alan made an abrupt stop.
“Here, you’re gonna need this.” He handed her a pre-charge card. “I’ve already put some money on it.”
They were at the gate of a train station at the airport. Shoko examined both sides of the card.
“Machines will tell you the amount remaining on your card,” said Alan. “Tokyo has PASMO, London has Oyster, and Hong Kong has Octopus. Toronto should have something like this very soon. It makes people move faster.”
“There aren’t that many people in Toronto, compared with these cities.” She paused. “But you’re right. It’s easier for sure. You act like someone who’s been here for a long time.” She became a master of cheer leading skills over the years that she’d been with him.
“I’ve been here for two weeks. And I’ve lived in Tokyo many years before. I know certain things by now. And it’s incredibly easy to understand the Tokyo subway system. Everything is colour–coded. You’ll get used to it too,” he said. “Put the card in your wallet so that you won’t lose it. By the way, you don’t need to take it out to hold over.”
Before finishing his sentence, Alan held his entire wallet over the machine at the gate and stepped to the other side. It looked easy. The gate immediately shut down before she followed suit.