On the Street in Tokyo

After breakfast I procured my JR Rail Pass and found the connection from Tokyo Station to Ueno Station with surprising ease. I disembark and walk north alongside the overhead tracks on the station’s east side toward my hotel in Asakusa. Situated near the intersection of two major thoroughfares–Kototoi-dori and Kokusai-dori–I should be able to find it. If it takes longer than the guidebook’s ambiguous instructions to use the north exit and walk 12 minutes from the station, it will be good exercise. Bonus: It’s a glorious day.

The street’s dun facade is tired and faded. None of Tokyo’s stylish city-chic evident in this older part of the city.  Across the way, under a tree to my left a homeless man with his back to me is stripped to the waist. His freshly laundered shirt neatly pinned to a flimsy clothes-peg carousel hangs from a branch. A mirror hangs on another.  Using the laundry water in his blue plastic bowl, he shaves and washes his body. I feel an intruder walking uninvited through his living room.

I wonder about him. In elementary school did he push up his hand with ardour thinking he had the right answer? Or did he sit sullenly, always an outsider? What dreams did he once have? What life-arc placed him here on the street with passersby to witness his ablutions?

How much does either of us matter to the wider world? Both of us single souls among millions. Both of us alone. Both of us—though in very different ways—homeless in Tokyo.

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