Tokyo Stories from Curious Outsiders

020 : Naoki at the secondhand bookshop near JR Otsuka’s south exit, Toshima-ku
Born 1982 in Italy, Naoki currently works as a pootaro and sometimes artist. He came to Japan on a tourist or entertainer visa. Why Japan? Growing up looking different from the Italian kids around him, he has been obsessed with the country where his parents are from. He digs the following Tokyo bits: when he steps out of a yamanote train and the next sobu train is right there in front of him, he doesn’t look like a foreigner here, smoky alleyways packed with tiny izakaya, and the cats in Nishi-nippori. He, however, is a touch miffed by not looking like a foreigner, too many warnings and signs, the recently re-confirmed mayor and getting slapped on the head as a standup shtick. For more info on Naoki you should send an email.

image: shop boy

“The slightly bald salaryman didn't correspond to any memory I could conjure up.”

A friend once likened the semi-automatic “irasshaimase”s by staff in Japanese shops to a sprinkler system. He was right.

I was trying to read a magazine in a secondhand bookshop just outside Otsuka station as part of a prolonged, desperate effort to not think about anything, which had already included a six hour session at an underground manga-kissa. Trying to, because, reading was made impossible by the constant splashes of “irasshaimase”s[1] on my face, uttered by the entire floor staff of the bookstore as each new customer stepped in. As if that wasn’t enough, the long-awaited and rare silences were punctuated by epidemic murmurs of “do-zo”s[2] and “goriyo-kudasai”[3], the meanings of which I didn’t really understand.

I looked up in exasperation and noticed that the people around me were well equipped against this overdose of mechanic welcoming: many were wearing earphones and one looked particularly comfortable in a colourful wool hat, sunglasses and headphones the size of CDs. He looked as if he was in his own portable manga-kissa.

It was past eleven in the evening but the well-lit shop was still full enough with people to feel like being in a crowd. Many were visibly back from work with their tired black nylon briefcases and grey handkerchiefs making round-trips from pocket to forehead to wipe off the sweat that kept oozing out despite the air-conditioner gushing out frigid air. Japanese summers are asphyxiating.

Somehow, my eyes were drawn to one of them who looked remarkably familiar from the back.

The slightly bald middle-aged salary-man didn’t correspond to anyone who I could conjure up in my memory, so I moved to a position where I could see his face. I was stunned. It was me. Not someone who looks like me, but myself, just a few decades older. Fatigued and moist.

I left the bookshop.

As I hurried back to my friend’s flat I kept staring at the ground to ignore the invitations by smiley men wearing bow ties ushering me into kyabakuras or I don’t know what. All I could think of was I need to go home, to Milan, soon, very soon.

Suddenly someone patted on my back. I turned with a consciously irritated look thinking it was another one of those touts but instead I immediately recognised the apron that the staff at the bookshop wear. “Is this yours?”, the man asked, showing me my mobile phone. I burst into a wide smile trying to compensate for the aggressive initial glance and thanking him I put the phone back into my pocket. He replied with a smile. It was a familiar smile.

He was a childhood friend who I hadn’t seen for more than ten years.

Needless to say I stayed in Japan for another couple of months.

referenced works

  1. A phrase commonly used by shopkeepers as customers enter which roughly means "welcome, come in".
  2. "Go ahead" or "Do as you please"
  3. Literally "Please use it", another common phrase shopkeepers use to encourage browsing customers at a store.

location information

  • Name: the secondhand bookshop near JR Otsuka's south exit
  • Time of story: early morning
  • Latitude: 35.732668
  • Longitude: 139.729212
  • Map: Google Maps


019She laughed at my effort and responded in English, ‘Long time, no seduction.’ — Qi Rari

018In my dreamy state, oblivious to signs and announcements I often boarded the wrong train.— Momus (aka Nick Currie)

017I was fifteen years old and it was one of those nights.— Yuko Enomoto

016That ear of corn just wanted to go home— Guttersnipe Das

015With his painstakingly coiffured mane blowing in the wind— Digits Wolfowitz

014Her voice, even across languages, betraying her worry.— Olly Denton

013I saw them drawing bamboo sticks from a silver rectangular box.— Daphné Haour

012A simulacrum of someone else's home, equal parts comfort and loss.— Adam Greenfield

011Jumbled Escheresque insanity where geo­graphy in any traditional sense ceases to exist.— Joseph Badtke-Berkow

010I could hardly make out anything apart from his glowing eyes...— Uleshka

009Shibuya was like a stroke.— Alice.d

008I cried for a while and wiped the dead bracken off my karate pants.— David Cady

007Both my tie and my disposition hang limp as I calculate the remaining distance to the station.— Chris Tobber

006I once read about a Chinese maiden whose feet were unbound by a cruel man …— Claire Tanaka

005The Bad Girl strutted off and I was left with a ham egg pie.— Guttersnipe Das

004I arrived expecting an irritated Japanese person to step out of the crowd and identify himself as Hideki.— Ashley Rawlings

003The woman at the ticket window seemed surprised to see another human being. I was the only visitor.— Andrew Douglas

002Flanked on either side by adult manga shops and the like, the smell of yakitori in the air.— Jean Snow

001For two weeks the day began with this morning walk, our shared routine.— Joseph Squier


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