Dreaming of Fake Tokyo

Some people remember their dreams and they seem to be somehow cohesive narratives. This happens only extremely rarely for me. Instead, I have recurring half-remembered people, buildings, events and especially places.

Many of these dreamed places map strangely to real places. There is dream version of Tokyo, an amalgam of an imagined Tokyo and the surrounding peninsula. What? Tokyo’s not (exactly) on a peninsula? It is in my dream. And there’s a toy store that has a secret door in one of the rooms on the fourth floor and is in an ersatz Victorian townhouse. And there is a town, where I used to live, and its popular shrine and tightly packed central district and 1960s-era train station. And two stops down is a centuries-old temple overlooking a beach (not exactly like this), with a parking lot full of tour busses.

None of these things really exist. At least I don’t think so. They might. They certainly could. They are the most extreme version of nostalgia–remembrances of things that don’t quite exist. They are probably disjoint compilations of real memories. I’m pretty certain there are elements of Harajuku in the imagined toy store, bits of La Foret, along with the best toy store ever, the Red Balloon in Georgetown. It all goes with my misremembered Japanese, which I can sometimes manage to halfway speak in the dream.

And I’ve already written about my deeply held conviction that a dreamed advertisement in the Yomiuri for dirigible captains to serve the Sultanate of Brunei for ferry service to Hong Kong and Osaka was a real thing.

I suspect some of this may be that the first and second times I spent time in Japan we didn’t have these fancy GPS enabled maps in our pockets. Especially the first time, when I only had a week or two in Tokyo proper, my internal map was close to the subway map. But then that’s still true of NYC, and I lived there for a half-dozen years.

I shouldn’t suggest that Fake Tokyo (and really Fake Japan, since on occasion, I’ll make it over the mountains to the south-west shore… of a Honshu that is oriented like a jelly bean, directly north-south) is the only recurring region in my dreams. There is fake Germany-Turkey-Spain, which I tend to navigate by trains and a dented rental VW Fox. There is an Nonexistent Tiny South Asian Archipelago that probably map to my imagination of what Lombok is like (if I hadn’t been sick and missed the ferry from Bali) crossed with my short visit to Fiji, with a little Hawaii, Aruba, and Santa Catalina thrown in for good measure.

Last night did include a very short stop in Fake Tokyo, at Imagined Favorite Restaurant. There are definite elements of real Japanese restaurants in here. That includes our Real Favorite Restaurant–now gone, but used to be around the corner from City Hall in Odawara, run by a couple whose son was a professional sumo fighter, and who always brought out their homemade pickles when I walked through the door. But this was mixed with elements of two little places I had only visited once each: an amazing little tempura place (Takasebune) on a Gion side street, with a withered, nearly toothless and scowling cook serving up the best red miso soup I’d ever had; mixed with a joint in the middle of Ikebukuro (might have been Ichiran, but probably just gone) with a bunch of construction workers on break literally pressing into my back while I struggled to quickly down a delicious but too-hot bowl of ramen. These and others make up the Imagined Favorite Restaurant of Fake Tokyo, and often contribute to the inevitability of being late for my departing flight. (Tokyo Airport is just on the edge of the city in Fake Tokyo.)

But most of it took place in a small New England town (a cross between my time teaching in Connecticut and time living in Jersey as a kid?–and a whole lot of movies?), with a small Marriott at the edge of town and a tourist trade for quaintness. Yeah, that could be anywhere. There is a ramshackle old house that sells curios and mostly junk, run by a stoner and a recluse, each of whom live upstairs, who hired me as a teenager to try to sort and price things. A better metaphor for my memory palace can’t be found. After digging to the back this time, I find a parka I wore in the 6th grade, complete with aging lift tickets (1), and a control arm from my old 1984 Porsche 944 (2). I tended to keep old broken parts of that car in the hope that someday they could make for good decor–I’m sure that’s part of next year’s Restoration Hardware catalog.

Anyway, I could only spend a little time here, since I had to get to the hotel, which was near where I was hosting a conference (3). I was wheeling in a cart with an extra projector, when I someone named Erika P* (4), who looks like an old acquaintance named Andrea (5), asks me if I can find her presentation slides–she’s sure she emailed them to me and her session is about to start. I do know who she is, right? (I don’t.) She’s not the famous P* who wrote that article in 1955, you know! I pull out my laptop to search and she notes my phone is ringing. I say “just let them leave a message and I’ll get to it as soon as we’re done” but it keeps ringing and ringing and ringing. Eventually it managed to wake me up, but today was a rushed, late morning.

As these things happen, it’s not until I write all of this down that I start to form some connections:

(1) I wore a parka for the first time in several years for a quick day-trip up to Flagstaff last week when my brother was in town. Although it didn’t have any lift tickets (and neither would have my 6th grade parka! I didn’t really ski much until I was a teen), my brother brought snow suit hand-me-downs for the kids, which did have old lift-tickets on them. While the jacket in the dream was a blue puffer parka from when I was a kid, I have no doubt it was triggered by the strange sensation of wearing something other than shorts and sandals for a change.

(2) I did a lot of work on that 944, which I sold a quarter-century ago, but in this case the connection is pretty easy: my Christmas gift to myself this year was the unexpected expense of new bushings for my current car.

(3) Yes, the IR16 nightmares continue. I thought I’d left them far behind, but I have to do an annual report now for a remarkably unproductive year. And so the time sink of IR16, which I perhaps unfairly blame for a lot of that lack of productivity, has once again reared its head.

(4) I don’t know anyone by that name combination (a reasonably common Portuguese & Spanish surname), but I have had several students with that surname, and there was one person at IR16 with it (though I’m fairly certain I didn’t meet her), so I am leaving it out lest people think I am dreaming of them. And according to Google Scholar, P* (1955) could only be an article on the nutritious content of Cassava, which I am confident I’ve never read.

(5) I haven’t met Andrea in more than two decades, but I know why she came to mind. On that trip up to Flag, my brother and I briefly discussed our admiration and generally good experiences with park rangers in the US (who tend to be more engaging than their Italian counterparts), and I recalled Andrea, who had spend more than a year in a fairly remote part of the national parks in, as I recall, Oregon. So, she may have come to mind again because of what’s happening there.

Don’t worry, this will be my last dream-journal for a long, long time.

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