Welcome to my jet lag, a monstrous, unshakable fog that feels as if I’ve left my soul behind, somewhere out over the Pacific. It’s nighttime here on Planet Japan, day one of a three-day trip to drive the 2009 Nissan Cube [page 24], and I can do nothing. I can’t think. I can’t read. I can’t write. The worst is knowing that, despite staying up for the entire thirteen-hour flight, despite the fact that it is now eight at night in Japan and six in the morning on the clock back in Michigan that is still regulating my brain and my sleep patterns, despite being exhausted to the point of death, I know that no matter when I lie down to sleep, I will be wide-awake at one in the morning. I might as well eat.
The Park Hotel Tokyo begins on the twenty-fifth floor of the shining Shiodome Media Tower. It’s just one gleaming skyscraper in a clutch of supermoderno high-rises, all crammed into Shiodome, its own new little city-within-a-city near the Ginza district. It’s one more chunk of marshy land reclaimed from Tokyo Bay. There was nothing here eight years ago, although Japan’s first train, from Tokyo to Yokohama, started here in 1872. I can see the sprawling Shimbashi station twenty-five floors below the hotel’s exquisite Japanese restaurant. My table is pressed against the glass wall, and it’s impossible to keep from staring at the futuristic world laid out around me. There are four big national train lines running through the station, with a pair of tracks serving each, and all eight lines are alive with long, fat trains snaking in and out. Subway and monorail trains also meet here, and a network of elevated walkways connects train platforms as well as all of the skyscrapers cramming the view. I suddenly realize that the four external elevators serving the building in front of me are rushing up and down, ferrying people still at work. What time is it? What day is it?
The long, traditional Japanese meal, dish after tiny impeccable dish, needs either a dining companion or a server who can explain it. I have neither. The silence is broken by broken English or no English at all. It’s impossible to peel my eyes away from the window and the layers of tiny figures and trains in endless motion way, way below. Strangely, there aren’t many cars.
It’s one a.m., and I’m wide-awake, so I pull out the map to the Nissan office about ten blocks away. The perfectly British head of public relations, Simon Sproule, insists I can walk to my late-afternoon interview with design chief (and accomplished jazz bassist) Shiro Nakamura. The map is mostly in Japanese, but it looks easy enough.
The view at street level is another matter, nothing but a wall of new buildings with trains rocketing around on overhead rails. It’s starting to rain. I grab a cab and pay close attention to the driver’s route. It’s a straight shot under the humming city above us.
Night has fallen early as I leave Nissan, insisting to my PR host, Shotaro Ogawa, that, no, he won’t have to walk me back, that I track like a guided missile. I march confidently down the pitch-black street toward Shiodome, which is gleaming somewhere ahead. In only a few blocks, I’ve lost sight of my Emerald City. I’m a little too dressed up to be out with no umbrella, lost in the dark with the rain picking up.
A long escalator runs up to the skywalk above me, so I go up for a better view. It’s a much quieter world high above the noisy street, with nary a soul around. Soon I can see I’m just a few blocks away, so I head down another long escalator.
Something is tugging at my ankle. My pant leg is caught in the escalator. And it won’t come out.
The waistband is elastic, and it’s starting to slide down my hip. I hang on for dear life, jerking my leg up, but no dice. The pants are stuck, and I see over my shoulder that a trainload of salarymen are now descending, about twenty feet above me.
I’m now hunched over, jerking away at my pants while the stairs disappear into the sidewalk. The cloth isn’t budging. I am about to become every salaryman’s fantasy, a woman wearing nothing but brown knee-high stockings and high heels. I tug furiously, finally throwing myself on the ground. I grab the straining pant leg with both hands and pull with all my might until it rips free of the metal maw with a very expensive shredding sound. I struggle to my feet moments before the line of horrified guys with umbrellas has to crawl over me.
I slop along with tattered pant leg, tracking like a scud through Blade Runner world until a doorman at the Conrad Hotel points me to the Park Hotel next door.
It’s one a.m., and I’m wide-awake.