From Tokyo, With Lots Of Stuff


Dear Tom and Emily,

I'm writing you on the last day of my Tokyo vacation—thank you again for approving my time off. I came here to see the cherry blossoms and buy a bunch of stuff and hopefully expand my worldview, and I'm happy to report all three were successful pursuits. I did not, I'll point out, come here to make friends, and I'm also happy to report that I did not—although this is a wonderful time to shout out the saleswoman at Kapital in Ebisu, who crawled into the deep recesses of their backstock to procure what I imagine to be the only pair of 34 waist jeans in the country of Japan. (Locked away in some obesity crisis fallout shelter.) When I apologized for being difficult and large, she smiled compassionately: "The Japanese are very small." We embraced after I paid. She is the kindest person I have ever met.

And that's a tough title to win because every person I've encountered in my eight days here has exhibited nothing but searing, unbridled thoughtfulness. Second to the jeansmonger was a waitress at a soba restaurant in Kōenji who, despite not speaking a word of English, was determined to help my friends and I decipher the menu, written exclusively in vertical Japanese. Tied for third place is the twosome from San Francisco who saw me crying in Narita and offered to help me find my way to the train. Not Japanese nationals, and ultimately useless for pointing me in the wrong direction, but the gesture was appreciated.

Once you stop crying and board the correct train bound for Shibuya—where babies travel alone and for free—you arrive in Tokyo, which is a dreamscape. From the 52nd floor of the Park Hyatt Hotel, where I was a guest [for the one hour my friends and I spent at the New York Bar], the view is sublime; tens of hundreds of thousands of glittering headlights, illuminated windows, alleyway lanterns, and Kiko Mizuhara for Panasonic ads, expanding endlessly in every direction until oblivion. It is stunning. You have plenty of time to look at it during the 600-minute wait to sit down and listen to a woman sing "New York, New York", and I highly recommend it.

The other thing I recommend doing is spending all of your money, a remarkably easy thing to do in Tokyo. Here is a sampling of things I bought: a rosehip oil-infused lip crayon, baby moisturizer called "Mommy Milk" (I know), a pair of drop crotch jeans adorned with useless denim tendrils affixed to the waist, a very beautiful set of nail clippers that I bought at 7-11, green mascara (for a friend), and countless packages of fried chicken bites from the grocery store next to our Airbnb. Let the record show that I spent nowhere near the amount of money I know I could have spent if I were a lawyer or a dictator.

At Tokyu Hands in Shinjuku, I spent an hour browsing infinitesimal figurines made for model train dioramas—an elderly woman the size of a thimble wearing a pink dress, a cerulean Volkswagen Jetta, bony little deciduous trees, laden with sparkling snow. My friend Sandra bought a matte black water bottle that looks like it belongs in MoMA. We were there for what felt like days. I could not tell you the name of a single restaurant we ate at, but I could draw you a map, from memory, of the Tokyu Hands beauty floor.

Which brings me to what you've been all been reading for—the !BEAUTY! stuff. I did most of my skincare shopping in the Baby section, because I cannot speak or read Japanese and thus am unable to digest ingredient sections the way I typically like to do, and also, cuter packaging. But if it's good enough for a Japanese baby, it's more than good enough for me, right? I bought Skin Peace Sunscreen, a milky chemical SPF consistent with most other Japanese sunscreens on the market, along with the aforementioned Mommy Milk moisturizer, which you should not try to Google on your work computer. I'm mad for not snagging Weleda's Japan-exclusive Edelweiss sunscreen, but it's good enough reason to come back. [Ed note: It's on Amazon!]

As far as makeup, I went straight for blush—all of the girls I saw on the streets of Tokyo wore no makeup but mascara and blush placed high up on the cheeks, almost under the eyes, and they all looked very cool and chill. The best blush I found was Etvos' Mineral Cheek, with a circular sponge applicator that delivers the finest powder blush deposit I've ever experienced. Other standouts included a handful of featherweight foundations, like Chifure's BB Cream (more of a BB essence) and Muji's Liquid Foundation. I'd heard that makeup was Japan's cosmetic forte, and that seems to be correct—nothing I tried was disappointing.

Even beyond makeup, everything in Japan is designed to perfection. Even the gay bars in Shinjuku Ni-chōme are optimized for convenience—instead of a cover charge, you order a drink with the doorman, and it's prepared immediately for you to enjoy. Genius. In Tokyo, homosexual nightlife operates with more efficiency than the United States postal service.

To be here is an electric experience. There's a sensation of escape I've felt over the last week, as an American severed from friends and family by way of a 12-hour time difference. Seven thousand miles away from home, everything I define myself by—my belongings, my job, my name, which doesn't exactly translate into Japanese—fades into the background until it's just me wedged into an enormous concrete cardiovascular system. Every moment is so rich and so unlike anything I've experienced before that it's almost like my brain wants to take it in slowly, piece by piece, savoring everything before it's gone. People told me it would be like another world, but they were wrong. It's like a dream.

And now it's time to wake up. Or rather go to bed, because I have to be at the airport tomorrow morning. What movie should I watch six times on the flight back? Yeah, I was thinking My Best Friend's Wedding, too. See you soon.


Photographed by the author.