Unlike a lot of people, I like London. I liked it enough to live there for two years, just not enough to not leave. I still enjoy going back to visit, but there is a slight problem – I tend to get lost there.
Not physically lost. No person who can read English has been lost in central London since a few years before the Olympics, when they put signs with detailed maps on every street corner and made the signs on the Underground stations much more noticeable. (This is based on…nothing. But it’s super obvious, I mean, come on.)
Instead I mean mentally, emotionally lost. During my time in London I may not have experienced the full range of human emotions, but I think I hit most of the negative ones – frustration, excitement, despair, wonder, melancholy, satisfaction, I’m-being-overly-dramatic, but it was a very intense time. So when I go back, every bit of everything I see looks exactly like London and I’m off down the shadier back alleys of memory (Brick) lane. I used to enjoy being reminded of it all again but now I find it supremely exhausting. A broken-off piece of my soul will be forever wandering the streets of London in the dark.
I was last there on Tuesday, for one day, for work (moving up in the world, apparently). I tacked a few hours onto the end of my trip, but not just to wander and dream and feel things and get confused. Oh no, I’m getting past that now, as I have things to do. This time, I was on a mission to Japan Centre.
Japan Centre is a supermarket, cafe, and bookstore on Lower Regent St. I’d ordered Japanese groceries for delivery from there before (for when Tesco sushi just won’t do) but hadn’t yet been able to visit the shop. It was smaller than I’d expected, but unlike every other Asian store I’ve ever been to, absolutely everything was Japanese (not just a token few blocks of silken tofu). I really wish I’d had more of an appetite/more money/more ability to carry things because it all looked so interesting. I ended up spending most of my time in the bookstore at the back. I came out with a Weekly Shonen Jump I can make neither head nor tail of and some free newspapers in Japanese. (Gotta start somewhere.)
So then I went to JP Books, which was next door and downstairs. And the “found” feeling I had from being on a support-my-study-of-Japanese mission started to fade. JP Books is in an all-Japanese department store (you can even pay in yen). Everyone there was Japanese. I had to remind myself that I was allowed in, it was okay to go in – I speak English and in London that’s really enough. Being in the bookstore brought home the fact that although I’ve been immersing myself in Japanese and studying kanji for several months now, “You know nothing, Jon Snow“. I let the disorientation happen for a bit and then I left.
Is there a moral to this story? I have a long way to go in the pursuit of Japanese. But it beats drifting aimlessly around London for a few years.