Ants, wasps and bees were the first architects, the first city dwellers, and the first colonizers.
Their colonies are described as superorganisms because ants appear to operate as a unified entity, collectively working together to support the colony.
Life has always been frenetic. Indeed one could say that what is not frenetic is dead.
Move and keep moving; there’s a saber-toothed lion on your trail. There’s a mortgage
to pay off, a plane to catch, a job to find, a reason to live, a necessary tooth to pull and a
fast bullet streaming live from the barrel of a gun. There is not time to watch the steam
rising from the kettle.
Ants have colonised almost every landmass on Earth. They may form 15–25% of the terrestrial animal biomass. Their success in so many environments has been attributed to their social organisation and their ability to modify habitats, tap resources, and defend themselves.
Of course, it’s not just structures or places that make a city but more precisely it memories,
stacks of them intertwined like termite mounds,
the galactic and the impractical,
where everything before you seems impossible,
where the day and the night are like two different universes,
where a park is no longer a park but the park that came to life when you first kissed,
or where you fucked in the dark after hours with
the cherry blossoms sending down their sweet bloom.
Do the people make the city or
does the city make the people?
Clay, concrete, steel, blood,
ancient fishing village,
sedimented by two centuries,
tiny particle I, with eyes to perceive
why all these things make a city.
A city makes a place in your heart
and only a heart can make a life a life,
and only a beat
can make a heart,
and the beat of the wheels of the first trains start creaking out of the stations at 4:26am. Those who travel two hours each way to work might consider the first train otherwise it’s those who missed the last trains, drunk from lack of sleep, they crash unto the seats like discarded mummies. There are those with suitcases heading for Narita to take a short trip somewhere. All trips in Japan are short. If you’re working you know that. And if you don’t work here then you don’t exist. The retired are a useless army and they know it better than everybody else. They are likely here too, lost, staring out the window blankly trying to remember who they were and what their life was and how they let it slip past them like it was something not quiet theirs. All the hours of zangyo and for what, the stroke that left only the deformed face and foot? The current army of workers are too tired to think about any of it. And if they could think about it what good would it do? They rustle to life after five or six hours sleep and get ready to do it all again. Testosterone levels are decreasing. Tokyo, like a giant heart inflates and deflates once a day as the mass of commuters move into the centre in the morning, and when they exit again as the night falls. The people are ruled by the city and the city is ruled by the trains. They form the vast complicated networks of capillaries, veins and arteries that allow the blood to flow round the giant mass that is the great body of greater Tokyo home to 38 or so million, squashed into 6,993 square kilometers.
Average rainfall: 1,519mm (60 inches)
Electricity: 100 volts AC, 50/60Hz; flat two-pin American-style plugs are standard
Time zone: GMT + 9
Dialing Code 81
Train time is the real time of Tokyo.
The vast army of salary men and office ladies make their way in drips, drabs, till drips and drabs become waves of ever increasing density; till ocean after ocean of them crowd into the thousands of stations all over Tokyo. On the trains there’s absolute silence except for the rattle of the rails, the clunk-clunk rhythm. As a survival strategy most people have entered their own world, with the aid of smart phones. They listen to music. Play games. Maybe the smart phone evolved to help us survive these hellish hours every morning and evening. Before the smartphone: books, manga, walkmans. Isn’t all technology just another attempt to distance ourselves from reality? Just when you think it’s physically impossible to get any more people on the train, the door opens and twenty more people heave and push their way into you. You’re so crammed up you can barely move your right arm to scratch your nose, which has suddenly become very itchy. Everyday you vow you will do something to change this but five years go by and you’re in so deep that you know the next thirty are going to be the same and there’s nothing you can do.
The lines pulse here, there and everywhere, zigzagging each other in countless nodes. The Yamanote line loops in a great circle round the heart of Tokyo. 200-meter trains depart every two to four minutes in each direction. One complete trip round the 34.5km circular line takes about an hour. There are 29 stops including the big ones of Shibuya, Shinjuku, Shinagawa, Ikebukuro, Ueno, and Ginza. All but two of the 29 stations on the Yamanote connect with other railway and subway lines. The Oedo line, medieval, Dantesque, a grotesque combination of steel concrete and flesh, a hideous monster of mans pride and folly, is completely underground, reaches 48 meters at some points, right down into the belly of Tokyo. It commenced full operation on December 12th 2000. Costing more than 1,400 billion yen it is the most expensive subway ever built. The Oedo carries a million a day. It’s shaped like a figure six lying on its side. The full 40.7km trip from Tochomae around the loop and onwards to Hikarigaoka takes 81 minutes. Trains arrive every 3 to five minutes and are almost never late.
I once got laid in Hikarigaoka park during hanami the cherry blossom season festival. Her name was Haruka and she was drunk on cherry blossoms and red wine. I never saw her again. There were many I never saw again. It was easy to disappear in Tokyo, and to reappear fresher and stronger, like the cicadas, that lay beneath the dirt for cycles of prime years and merged to scream for seven days before they fell silent again. That was summer. Fire works and cold barely tea. Bullfrogs croaking in the pregnant rice paddies. Grasshoppers. Sleeping naked in the humid wet nights praying for a breeze. Girls revealing flesh and boys hungry for the harvest.
In the cicada's cry
No sign can foretell
How soon it must die.
Ethnic mix: 97.5% Japanese, 2.5% other
Religion: 99% Shinto/Buddhist, 1% Christian
Average January temperature: 6°C (42°F)
Average July temperature: 26°C (78°F)
The Toei Asakusa line
The Keikyu line.
The Saikyu line.
The Tokyu Toyouku line
The Denentoshi line
The Hanzomon Line
The Keio Line
The Chuo Line
Each line holds memories. Liaisons. Silent train rides. Arguments. Hours that added up to years. I spend two hours a day on average on the trains. Over 12 years that's 8,736 hours. That's the equivalent of riding the train every night and day for 364 days. Read a lot of books. Listened to a lot of music. Wrote a lot of poems. Met a lot of women. Looked out a lot of windows. Endless hours gazing and trying to predict what the future night hold and you know what; I never got close.
I could go on and on and on and each line and each station holds a memory for me. How each station could have been the one I settled down to live in. I mean I did settle down, but settling down never liked me, and as soon as I got comfortable, faith or god, or whatever you’d like to call it, perhaps my own doing, came along and told me to pack up my bags, because I was needed a little further down the line.
158 stations in all.
48 different operators.
4,714 km of rail and
…and this doesn't include the Shinkansens, the high speed bullet trains which connect the major cities of Japan.
This is just Tokyo.
Yes, Tokyo and only in Tokyo,
40 million passengers a day (counted twice if using two lines).
That figure doesn’t imply that every body, plus 4 million non-Tokyo people, ride the train just that a lot of people take multiple trains to get to work. Most commuters take at least two different lines.
About 4 million people a day pass through Shinjuku station making it, by far, the busiest station in the world.
The Tobu Tojo Line.
The Shonan Shinjuku Line.
The Nambu line runs down by Kawasaki
Where in late Autumn ten years later I saw
you walking through the station alone.
I, my wife by my side, remarked to
myself how unremarkable you were
sad you looked;
a leaf half torn
in a dark blue coat
swirling in a
Blowing from the west
Fallen leaves gather
In the east.
Short Story & Audiobook // Love Song for Tokyo
David Brennan lives and works in Suzhou, Jiangsu, China. His debut novel, Upperdown, was published in 2019 by époque press. He was one of the winners of the Irish Novel Fair 2018. In 2016 he won the Frank O Connor Mentorship Bursary Award and has been shortlisted for the Bristol Short Story Award (2017), the Doolin Short Story Award (2016), the Curtis Bausse Short Story award, the Fish Memoire (2018), longlisted for the Fish Memoire prize (2016 & 2017) and the Colm Tobin Award (2017).
He has also published stories and poems in Number 11, Memoryhouse, The Ogham Stone, Crabfat, Tokyo Poetry Journal and Jungle Crows (A Tokyo Anthology).