I arrived at Narita Airport around 17:00. If I wanted to get to my new home that night, I would have to reach the housing office by 19:30 - by subway and foot, lugging a gigantic backpack, a surprisingly cumbersome duffel bag, and my trusty man-purse. Needless to say, I did not make it, although I give myself endless credit for trying. It was a valiant effort, but Japanese customs and a confusing map got the best of me.
I headed to Kabukicho - an area in Shinjuku known for it's seedy clubs and less-than-reputable businesses - to find a capsule hotel, my back-up plan. From the Lonely Planet guide: "Smack in the middle of sleazy Kabukicho, Green Plaza Shinjuku offers standard-issue capsules as a last resort." So, this is where I ended up spending my first night: a nondescript beige capsule. Perfect.
Walking around, I'm pretty sure I actually heard somebody offer me some "sucky sucky." I didn't think they said that any more. One man (a pimp, presumably) made the universal sign for a blow job: fist in front of mouth, tongue substituting for cock in cheek. It was the least enticing thing I'd seen in quite a while. Maybe if a good-looking girl were to do it while longingly gazing into my eyes, it would be different. But this man did it with a mechanical, detached movement; it was a hollow gesture meant for hollow eyes.
The capsules are for men only, and include access to a sento (public bath) in the same building. When you check in, you leave your bigger bags in a holding room, and head to the locker room. There, you find your locker (it's the width of about two thick books) which is stocked with your official uniform: short pajama pants and an oddly fitting tunic that ties around the belly, like a robe. Then, it's off to the sento.
The whole place sort of felt like an overnight camp - or maybe a prison. We were all stripped of our possessions at the door, and dressed the same. We all had the same standard-issue clothing, furnishings, and accoutrements to work with. Simply in these similarities, some sort of group harmony was to be found. I woke up at 4am, thirsty. Going to the bathroom, I saw several guys sitting in the lounge area in their identical pajamas, watching a documentary on ducks.
The next morning, I found the garbage looking like this. I guess we weren't all watching the ducks. Maybe this is the beauty of the capsule hotel for the Japanese man: it's a place where one can go to sort of disappear. With so much homogeneous conformity around, it's easy to turn the environment into white noise, and concentrate on - ahem – oneself.