Revisiting Tokyo

Updated: 2015-03-07 07:56

By Amy Chozick(Agencies)

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Revisiting Tokyo

An elevated view of Shinjuku. [Photo/Agencies]

I try so hard to embrace Japanese culture but still feel like an outsider.

By 3 am, I was dancing to Material Girl with a Japanese man in a plaid vest. We were on the crowded dance floor of a disco on the second floor of a nondescript office building tucked at the end of a little alley in Shinjuku Ni-chome, Tokyo's gay district.

Using my broken Japanese, I learned that my dance partner was a salaryman by day, slaving away at one of those soul-sucking Japanese office jobs. But this night, he was singing along to Madonna at the New Sazae bar, vamping it up as if we were in an episode of "Club MTV."

He wasn't the only one pretending. On most nights at home in New York, my husband, Robert, and I are in bed by 10:30 pm. The only dancing I do takes place clumsily in an overpriced indoor cycling class. Living it up means a second glass of wine at dinner.

But here, in the wee hours, Robert stood in a corner, smoking. (He is not a smoker.) He and Ken Nishikawa, a DJ friend who speaks English with a British accent and sometimes goes by the stage name Intelligent Milli Vanilli (which is a phonetic challenge for the Japanese), were engaged in a deep conversation about the Pet Shop Boys. Ken's wife, Ayumi, drunk on sake, practiced her aikido moves on a woman (I think) in frosted lipstick and teased hair.

This is who we are in Tokyo, where it seems nothing is as it should be back home, even if we want it to be.

My trip all seems like a dream now, but then so does my old life, when I lived there as a foreign correspondent for The Wall Street Journal and Robert and I were dating long distance. Neither of us had been to Japan since I moved back to the United States in late 2007.

My plan was to revisit all of my favorite places, starting with recreating my very first night in Tokyo nearly a decade ago, when Ken, a friend of a friend who was eager to show a gaijin (foreigner) around, first took me through a portal to a world that I never would have discovered on my own.

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