Unless it’s a bar or there is alcohol involved, Tokyo isn’t necessarily the friendliest of cities. But, in the capital’s slowly dwindling older districts, it can be a very different story. Greetings are common, and conversations between strangers aren’t anywhere near as rare — the latter sometimes even occurring in the most comical of situations.
Despite her age, and the wide-eyed wonder that a foreigner can still inexplicably cause in Japan, this old lady didn’t bat an eyelid. Instead, after the briefest of pleasantries, I was hastily put to work — lifting up the difficult to move shutters, and then opening the semi-stuck sliding doors behind them. All the while she apologised about the amount of crap that had accumulated over the years, which now, at 93, she was simply too old and too tired to do anything about. Well, that and the war, her long-dead husband, precarious financial situation and the kids who rarely ever visit.
Yet once the shutters and door work was done, leaving proved difficult. As, after washing my hands as instructed, a lunch of instant ramen was offered, along with some booze from a selection of miniature bottles she managed to unearth from the bottom of a cupboard.
Politely declining both, however, changed nothing, and it quickly became apparent that she just wanted someone, anyone, to talk to. Even if that person didn’t understand everything she said. Or due to age and background, couldn’t really relate to her life story. Neither mattered in the slightest.
And so I listened to a lady stuck in the past, and yet at the same time also stuck in a present she has no great desire to continue living in. A sad lot at the end of a long life.
But we talked for a little while. She posed for a last photo. And if nothing else, the day turned out to be different than usual — for both of us.