Years ago when I was still a student, there was nothing outside the western gate of Shinjuku Station. When I say that there was nothing, I don’t mean that there was nothing worth mentioning or nothing of value. I mean that there was literally nothing. Just a big empty field. Now it’s packed with highrises and hotels and government buildings.
I don’t really know if all this change is a good thing. I mean, I guess it’s of use to people. The crowds that flock to the area for work and shopping are proof enough of that. But for me personally, I don’t feel like it’s all that convenient. I don’t get the sense that the empty lot that was there before was that inconvenient. In fact, I think it was better off simply the way it was.
There was nothing there, yes, but an underground walkway was being constructed as part of a larger city plan. Back then my friends and I would hang out in Shinjuku late into the night when going back to our dorms was going to be a hassle or it was a pleasant summer evening. There weren’t any homeless people there back then. Young people would hang out in small groups until the sun came up. The underground walkway was safe and well maintained, and a friendly spirit of community permeated the place.
One night my friend who was an aspiring photographer took a portrait photo of me. I was 19 and had long hair. I was sitting on the concrete ground and leaning back against the wall, a cigarette sticking out of my mouth. I wore a short sleeve shirt that didn’t need to be ironed, blue jeans, and suede desert boots, and I had a this terribly pouty expression. This look like I was being inconvenienced. I think it was taken at 3AM sometime during the summer of 1968.
My friend loved that picture. He gave me a big print of it. As I said before, I don’t like having my picture taken. This was the one photo I didn’t hate. This was the one photo that depicted me as I truly was. The feeling of that period of time cut through the rough graininess of the photo. I held on to it for a while but it was lost in one of my many moves.
I still vividly remember the night that photo was taken. There was a skinny boy squatting down near me. I struck up a conversation with him. He was a junior at a high school in Tachikawa. “I don’t wanna go home,” he said. “My girlfriend’s pregnant and the kid isn’t mine.” There wasn’t anything I could say to make him feel better, but I remember being awkward and trying my best. What would you have done?
Whenever I exit the western gate of Shinjuku Station I think to myself, “I miss back when this used to be a big empty lot.” My thoughts won’t change anything, but I think them anyway.