When I travel , I try to use my ears and eyes more than anything else, and let a smile be my passport. Last year when I went to Tokyo, I went not knowing a word of Japanese. I also had only the part-time company of a person who did speak the language. She was a Japanese housewwife and lovely friend of a friend, who was under the impression that me and my friends wanted to mostly go to the shopping districts, which we didn’t really want to do so much. For one full day we ran to keep up with her through Harajuku as she moved very quickly and I found myself missing the stuff I wanted to linger over and see. She was unfailingly kind and polite; but she ran us like sled dogs.
The next day I went off by myself. I got directions to the Ameyoko market from a lovely young woman named Sayaka who worked at the hotel. She made sure that I knew where everything was and how to get there, often accompanying me to the taxi and giving him instructions as well. She directed me to Jingu Stadium, Ueno Park, the Ginza district and anywhere else I was curious about.
She would not accept any kind of gratuity, as this is not part of the Japanese culture. In fact, people can get insulted at the idea. I gave her a book of my work and some buttons with details from my drawings on them. The Japanese are big collectors of “flair“; buttons, pendants and little decorative details. She was delighted by these things and went out of her way to help me navigate her city.
At night I often could not sleep so I would hang out in the lobby and smoke and read and write in my diary. Sayaka always made sure I could get tea at night and in one case found me a Japanese sleeping tea that really helped. We had funny conversations about our countries, even though neither of us spoke a word of the other’s language. After seven or eight days of the best sushi on the planet, she pointed us to the Ruth’s Chris steakhouse in Japan. She was a real friend to me and my crew of friends who accompanied me there. A few days after I got back, I sent some etchings of bugs for her and her friends at the hotel, for their kindness.
About a month later I got a big box full of treats, including a Hiroshima Carps baseball hat because I’d not been able to find one big enough for my giant head. I looked for days and it is one of my most treasured things. I’ll go back to Japan in September; specifically Tokyo. I love the kind of work I make about this place; the joy of it, the magic, and the memory of the kindnesses bestowed upon me there.