Wednesday, August 15, 2012


The second time I fell off my bicycle, it had not been raining. It was dawn and birds were chirping. I was going downhill, the hot, humid air washing over my body. I was going faster and faster, the sky above was fast changing colors. I suddenly looked down. My bike was veering off the sidewalk. I must have pulled it back on course. The next instant my face was an inch from the rough pavement. I had skidded across the sidewalk and crashed, and my palms, fingers, and shins were scraped and bleeding. I couldn't stop staring at my hands, wishing I could reverse this.

That incident reinforced an eerie feeling I had that Tokyo has a deadly way of drawing you in; if you got too close, you would get hurt, or would no longer be able to return home. I only had two weeks left, I told myself, and I had to get off the island when the time came.

So I went home, cooked myself some breakfast, and slept. The following weekend I decided to take a break from everything else and go and visit Sensō-ji, an ancient Buddhist temple located in Asakusa, Tokyo. For someone who had mostly been preoccupied with contemporary Japanese architecture, I was surprised to see at Tokyo's oldest temple a full-blown expression of fury that I had only sensed muted beneath the white-on-white Modernism of post-war work. That made what I could only describe as the trauma latent in the serene spaces of architects such as Toyo Ito and SANAA even more potent.