There are those moments sometimes when I wander where I become very aware of the feet that have trod before me, in this same spot, the same chill October air.
It is not time travel, it is not being a student of history, it is not retracing the steps of some famous path laid before you, detailed in a guidebook.
No. It is just having a sense of wonder and being present and by being so present, opening yourself to all that came before you and all that may yet come.
I was on my own as always one evening in Tokyo.
Early October. Hunter’s moon somewhere in the sky, likely fat and heavy, aglow with the fullness of the autumn that was on the way. I had seen it a few days ago in Kyoto, waxing and new, peeking out from behind the machiya houses, as I wandered and got distracted by tea and ice creams.
But tonight, this night, was a Tokyo evening, the liminal hour of dusk as the daytime people rushed to their evening obligations and the evening people slowly started to emerge.
The day had been long and I had walked the streets for hours, not shooting much, content with just moving and looking and seeing and tasting.
The walk from Ueno to Shinjuku where my hotel was would be long and I was tired, but it felt an appropriate way to close out the day.
And the best things always happen when you are open and have no plan.
There were rivers and canals that I crossed, bridges and trains that I went under. It was dusk so the buildings were still dark, hulking titans standing against the richly blue black sky, minutes away from turning on their night plumage of lit windows and signage.
A hushed train entered a riverside station, the still waters echoing the platform and the quiet figures who had waited with such melancholy patience. And the train came and stopped and then hushed its way forward into the evening and the quiet people were gone and the bright lights of the station shone on in silence in the air and in the water.
I was choosing streets and turns and alleys by feel and by whim, left and right and straight, no matter where, no matter how, just generally pointed to the southwest, towards Shinjuku.
I was tired and thirsty and hungry and needed to relieve myself. I stopped at a few windows and doorways and peered inside, but things were so bright and sharp and lively and loud and there were people, sometimes many people, sometimes just one or two. These places seemed too solid and harsh. I stayed out in the evening and walked back out of the light that spilled out of the doorways, keeping my feet dark and dry.
I saw some cats and I walked into someone’s office because I liked his hair and his glasses and he let me in and for a few seconds, I was in the light and very much solid and I took some photos and I left and kept on.
The streets were sloping upwards gradually and as little as I knew of the lay of things, I think I was getting near Shinjuku. My hotel would be on the other side of this small hilly rise.
A wall appeared on my left. A large park and garden on the other side fading into the dark. This was a royal garden, the wall of the old city, the entrance up ahead of me, the old north gate. There was a gentle curve of a path from the closed gate, leading into the park, lined with hanging lanterns which spilled warm light into the path, eventually leading into the silhouetted trees and disappearing. The lanterns were electric and the path they illuminated was for no one as the gate was closed and the park was forlorn and empty.
I could hear the gentle music of a stream though I could not see it.
And I could feel it, not the connection with the past, but the dropping away of the present, being shed like some burdensome coat on a warm autumn night.
How many people had stood where I had stood in early October by the north gate. How many travelers and pilgrims, merchants and servants, warriors and monks, how many had walked under the Hunter’s Moon to come to the city’s north gate, tired and hungry yet still and peaceable, knowing that this leg of the journey would soon conclude.
The air was cool though I was warm and I had plenty of cigarettes and film, and there was water burbling unseen and a bright fat moon also unseen and I waved my hands in the air and my path that would take me to what was next lay in front of me.
And I kept on and the night did as well.