So I’m in my room at the other side of the planet. Its 37°C out there and this is one of my last days in Japan. This city should look quite familiar to me, but I guess Tokyo is an entirely different beast. I mean, it’s a large city, people are rushing to trains, subway and sidewalks 24/7, but – at first – I thought they were nothing like those guys sharing the bus with me back home.
In here, business hour starts at 9 o’clock. Public transportation reaches everywhere (I’m guessing) giving people many alternatives so they can hit the snooze button once in a while.
The thing that made them different from the folks I know well it’s their very distinctive silence in the morning. Even in a packed train car, you can hear the proverbial pin drop, but you won’t hear anyone talking (on phones or to each other). Working men and women stand side by side looking at screens silently waiting for their stop.
When they are not looking at their screens, they are immersed in a book, almost always wrapped in a protective cover. My chances of spotting someone reading “50 Shades of Grey” were nil.
Every morning, I stood by them silently paying attention to their indifference towards me. Being a gaijin it’s not big in Japan (!) and there are a lot less foreigners walking the streets than I had imagined. Every time you meet one you kinda gives them “that look”: “You are not from Japan, neither do I. Now go, sweet stranger”.
Not including one or the other curious child, none of the Japanese seems to notice me speaking a language that must sound incomprehensible. But if they do (I bet they do!), they simply look the other way and try not to bother me with puzzled glances.
Most Brazilians, myself included, are anything like that, we are naturally very curious and maybe a little intrusive. We pay attention to people talking in weird languages, and we strive to understand what is being said, just for the fun of it.
Their silence in the morning train made me admire their respect for privacy and courtesy to each other, but at the same time, all I could think was: guys, seriously, haven’t you saw the game last night? Or the news? Maybe, I don’t know… the weather for this week? Why aren’t you talking about stuff, complaining about your jobs or anything like that? Are you that different from me?
It took a sort of adventure to answer that question with a resounding no. After meeting some gaijin friends (mostly Americans) at a bar in Shinjuku – where we discussed our impressions of how the Japanese seem indeed reserved – I went to the closest subway station a little tipsy from all that very light beer they seem to like it here. On the way, a scene surprised me. Two Japanese girls helping themselves down a ladder. Suddenly, I wasn’t the only dizzy person walking down that staircase.
Laughing out loud, the girls weren’t alone in the party-hard early birds bloc. At the subway platform, groups of young and older guys and girls spoke loudly in nihongo. Maybe it wasn’t about the game, or the news or even the weather, but they did spoke loudly, without any signs of shyness. One could even say that some of them were being annoying and disrespectful to the few workers who rose early on a freaking Saturday. I wouldn’t, they were being quite familiar.
Nearly lying, I was around a group of young Japanese while they were questioned by a British tourist. The matter of the conversation involved one of them having to go back to his wife after the big night out. “Married? How old are you?”, the brit guy looked shocked at me, waiting for a reaction that I could not express (hence: hangover kicking in).
After debating the right (?) age to be married (brit pal actually said “never”), one of the Japanese guys turned to me and asked me bluntly: “Where are you from?”. Finally! One of them noticed me at a crowded subway car, and there was the question I’ve waited all those years (the second most basic question in English classes everywhere!): “I’m from Brazil!”.
Immediately, I had the attention of the whole wagon. “Wow, Brazil! What do you do in Tokyo?”. “I’m actually on vacation”. That strucked them fully. “But why go here?”, one of them questioned. “I guess I’ve always wanted to visit Tokyo. Looks like a great city”.
My compliment was well received, which gave me courage to say one more thing, I was in a roll: “It’s like São Paulo, but you are really quiet in the morning”. My stop was next and I had to rise from the depths of that seat and face the lightheadedness. When the doors were opening, one of them turned to me and said: “You should see us at night”.
Last Friday night I noticed not one, but two invitations made by friends to social gatherings. One was a birthday party; the other was a regular party thrown by a close group of friends. To the birthday guy, I did what most of us do these days: I left a birthday compliment on his Facebook wall. To the regular party, I simply declined.
It’s been a while since I’ve received the first complaint from a friend who told me, unceremoniously, that I was “a little absent”. Although I tried to convince her that I was available 24/7 at my email, twitter, Facebook account or hell, even by text, I couldn’t secretly disagree with her. I was a little absent. But unlike the feeling of guilt my friend was trying to instill into me, I didn’t felt guilty at all.
Friday I stayed home by myself. I cooked dinner (the most amazing bowl of soup I’d ever cooked in my whole life. I’m serious, you needed to be there to believe), took a long bath and watched Thursday night shows I’d downloaded from the day before. One after another, those shows filled my night with borrowed emotions experienced by characters that I know well. And, you know what, this is an experience with which I have a wide acquaintance.
For the past year (and particularly the last few months), I’ve been trying to live by my own choice of “saying yes to more things, more experiences”. I went to some questionable parties, I travelled on holidays, I rarely said no to friends when they needed me and I dated… substantially (hey, no slut-shaming! Cast the first stone, would ya!). It was all fine for the time being, and it all related to a degree of social deprivation that I had never properly supplied until now.
After cruising the world of the socially active and accepting virtually all requests from friends who required my presence, I now feel that I should be on track of a much needed isolation period.
I remember learning the term hikikomori on “Eden of the East”, a Kenji Kamiyama anime, premiered on 2009. Yutaka Itazu was a reclusive hacker who would not leave his room crowded with computers, books, dvds, comics, you name it, he had it. Essentially, hikikomori “is a Japanese term to refer to the phenomenon of reclusive adolescents or young adults who withdraw from social life, often seeking extreme degrees of isolation and confinement. The term refers to both the sociological phenomenon in general as well as to people belonging to this societal group.”
The anime dealt with the political issue of unproductive youth of Japan and although Yutaka’s hikikomori issues were displayed as a serious issue, I was too busy falling in love with mere thought of someone who built himself a fortress of pop culture. His interaction with friends was limited to the area of his room or, preferably, the internet. These past weeks I’ve realized that, since 2009, I’ve been building my fortress and I haven’t got a chance to enjoy it. My living room is filled with books, dvds, games and gadgets I love but I did no read, watched or played with yet!
I need time, but I can quit work ’cause (1) I like my job (mostly) and (2) it pays for all that stuff I just listed. I can’t quit school ’cause (1) I like library studies and (2) I have this fear that stop studying will make my brain shrink. Go figure… Nevertheless, both obligations are exhaustive.
All this talking, just to say: I think I’ve been too tired to socially interact. It’s not personal (one of my favorite phrases), is only a private desire to isolate myself a little.
So the next time you call me and I can not go to whatever you’re calling me to, know that I’m just trying to make the healhty version of the ‘hikikomori choice’. But I am online 24/7, if you need me, ok?
Remember when Rebecca Black urged us to accept that Friday was everyone’s favorite day of the week (seconded only by Saturdays, Sundays, holidays and fake sick days). Yes, it was a long time ago and here in the future we really can’t remember who that girl was, but we sure can Google. And yes again, we can Google directly into our retinas.
Google Glass 4.0 is now a common feature in almost every occasion and today, Friday, I’ll show you – self-from-the-past – how it changed completely your relation with Friday nights get-togethers.
The place, whatever it may be, has Wi-Fi and this aloud me to not worry about the strength of my 5G connection indoors. In the past, I used to hate these type of gatherings. Not enough money for alcohol, not enough interesting topics people wanted to chat about and too much sobbing or snobbery from people I don’t even care about… But that’s not a problem anymore, no sir-y.
I arrive half past nine, people should arrive earlier than that, but no matter how far into the future we go, some stuff never changes. Not on this town, and you live here yet, sorry. My Google Glass is on; we call it just “glass” or “glasses” these days. At the superior screen there are some shortcuts we can access with, literally, the blink of an eye. We can activate a cursor and move it around with micro gazes. Mine are configured to show email, videocalls, maps and Netflix.
After being frisked by bar security (everywhere is a tough neighborhood in this future), I activate the local unprotected Wi-Fi and gladly watch the strength bars go up ‘til 5. This night is going to be good, I know it will.
My network app (Facebook is not a thing anymore, it was bought by Wal-Mart, and the new social network is actually a fusion of every network that ever existed. It’s ineptly called “Network”) blinks the lens automatically. Everyone on my friend’s lists can be found by face recognition. A tagline above the person’s head will light up with a specific color setting that aloud me to identify what filter I’ve applied to him or her.
The bar is kind of packed but I’ve seen it even more crowded. I move closer to the counter and ask for my customary beer, neither the cheapest nor the most expensive. We didn’t got rich, man. I move my head slowly while two new emails arrive, SPAM, I can delete those with a quick blink, but while I was doing that the “Network” app located three familiar faces. Two of them, gray tagged, I don’t even remember when did I add those guys. The other one, blue tagged, it’s one of my close friends, and you will meet her soon.
- Hey! – She shouts waving her clumsy arm with a spilling drink on her hand.
My glasses divide my vision in two modes. One of them shows up her translucent profile. There I see some of our pics, and the content of our last messages. She had a falling out with her boyfriend three weeks ago, but we were still talking about this yesterday.
- How are you, mister!?
- I’m drinking warm beer. What’s up with that bar? – The beer is actually cold, but I need this as a conversation starter. Is that or “you’re really young, and you make me feel a little old, missy”.
Glass hears my complaint and actually informs me that my beer is -7C. “That’s cold, you whiner”, says the fading message on my screen.
- It was his least favorite bar, remember?
To the mention of his name, Glass shows me small pics from the two of them.
- You haven’t deleted his pics – I inform her.
- Can’t you get offline for like 5 minutes?
- Ok, I can. Glasses offline – I lie. I changed that command a long time ago, my Glass is still on.
From there, she dwells in a long conversation about how the guy didn’t deserve her. Yes, he was a bastard. She was nothing but nice to him. He tried to call her. She didn’t answer at first. “Good for y…”. Wait, she didn’t answer because she was taking a bath, she called him back as soon as she got out of the shower. Geez.
Micro gaze at the right corner of the glass. Apps. CounterCtrl. One eye on my friend, the other on the left corner, the bar counter is filled with people. CounterCtrl is active and is already in background mode calculating the precise time the bartender takes to fill an order. I’m not paying attention to my friend; I just have to record this conversation to get back at her when I’m more interested. She doesn’t even realize I’m not engaging anymore.
CounterCtrl tells me the next 2 minutes will be the best to order a beer, I say “excuse-me, brb” and my friend finds another friend to mope about her ex.
On my way to another beer, I listen to the ambient music and access the playlist from the local server. It’s a 10′s party so there’s really nothing I actually like on the next two hours. My earplug, connected to Glass, changes the song to something much more acquainted to me. Earplugs can die down ambient sound. You still hear the bar track list, but your list is now the main thing you are listening.
- One more! – I shake my empty bottle and the bartender gets me a new one in 47 seconds. Go, CounterCtrl! And go Bartender! He will get a favstar from me on his profile.
When I turn around, Network app can’t find a single familiar face on the crowd. That’s a bummer. Instead, it opens my online friend’s list on the left. I can see who’s connected on videocall. What, my brother is on? That never happens.
- Hey – I called him on Glass. Nobody looks at me, although I may appear to be talking to myself. It’s Glass, they know of it.
- Are you home? – My brother demands to know.
- No, I’m out.
- What do you want?
- I sent you a video, I need you to edit for me. It’s important.
- I will. But I won’t do it now. I’m not working.
- You’re always working. But thanks. Bye.
He didn’t even wait for me to say my goodbyes. Or ask me if I’m ok. Glass let’s me know his email arrived with the video in question. I’ll look at that later on.
Crowd control and a few gray tags appear. That guy was from my french class. We still haven’t learned french, past-self. We may die on “niveau intermédiaire”. Get used to it.
I sip my beer, listen to my songs, and ignore the waves from my blue tagged friend and her gray acquaintances. I don’t want to talk to friends of friends, but Glass shows me their profiles. Wow, this girl just came back from Nepal? I already hate her.
I turn my head to the bar, and RED FLASH. No, I hate red flashes. They indicate people I do NOT want to meet. Turn your head, move quickly away from the red tag. It’s him, it’s always him. My time to run from an ex, but “contrairement à” my great friend, I do not want to make this night about my exes. See there? I’ve used my french dictionary, Glass just popped open as a distraction from the imminent crisis. And oh, yes, you have other exes in the future. And no, I’m not sure if we are going to die alone. There should be an app for that!
There’s a little dance floor on this place, I’ve only come here a few times. I hate this song, but my playlist can do it better. Earplug active, I dance a little, a girl comes around, she’s wearing glasses too. We dance together but when I look at her eyes I notice the micro glances she’s giving to the corner of her vision sight. She’s not dancing with me, she’s videocalling someone and using me as his or hers “living” avatar. Way to treat a girl, gurl.
Leaving the floor, I spot the distant red tag on the distant corner. My beer bottle is empty. CounterCtrl tells me is gonna take sometime until I can get another one.
I look to the door and to the bar. I don’t see my blue friend, or gray friends of friends. I replay the video conversation with her. She actually was inviting me to something with her friends after the bar, I said “we’ll see”, but I really don’t remember saying anything.
Video-mode kept on after I split ways with her, the whole crowd was recorded, even my red tagged ex. He’s alone and we were having the same type of beer half an hour ago.
My legs are failing me. I get tired of standing around on these situations. I look to the door again, Glass opens a traffic app and let’s me know that there’s no traffic on the way home, a few cabs are available now if I wanted to leave. Maybe I should… right? I look at the counter one more time and PayPal my way out of there. Done, I already got my exit pass.
When I was moving to the door, someone yelled at a friend right by my side. The friend turns and flips his arm in my direction. There’s (also) no app for someone punching you accidentally on a crowded place. I see my glasses flying off my face right to the floor. Some girl will step on it. I must dive but it’s too late… Or not. Suddenly they are not there and are being handed to me by someone I never met and can’t really search on the Network.
- Hey. Nice model, 4.0 Lite?
- Yes, I have kind of a small head – I reply with a smile.
And that’s it. He’s wearing a 4.0 Black and that’s all I can really say to him other than “thanks for saving my glasses, or, my life. One and the same, you know the drill”.
He goes away to his friends and as I put the glasses on I realize he’s actually a gray tag. A friend of a friend. I could have started a conversation on this. Well, I may still send him a network direct message. We’ll see. For his courtesy, on the way home, I’ll up the grades I gave to this place on their network page.
Out on the street, my cab arrives promptly. I enter and playback some of the night while I’m deleting SPAM, watching my brother’s video and sending an apology for my ignored blue friend. Why did I hated Fridays on the past? It’s so much more fun now, you see…
That, my past-self, is the future that awaits you. A future where you can feel a revolution on the tip of your nose, but you may be too distracted or too socially nonchalant to appreciate. Very different from today. Are you excited yet?