I wasn’t really sure whether I would go. This would be breaking two taboos that have held fast over the last two years: gathering with friends indoors, and going to Tokyo. A Christmas party, at the apartment of Joy. Would I be able to stand it? Would I feel too crowded in?
Going over it in my mind, what got me thinking eventually that it might be feasible was the fleamarket. The Intercity Shinagawa fleamarket, held on Sundays: the site, way back when, of great perfume rapture much documented in the depths of the Black Narcissus files.
Those days are long gone. In recent years we have occasionally gone up there with ever diminishing returns. In fact, though,the excitement itself for me never really diminished at all, even if like a junkie chasing the high of their first fix, nothing could compare to the very first time we walked into that Aladdin’s cave, where in one of the very first stalls there was an foreign woman who was selling off her entire Japanese mother-in-law’s perfume collection – my very first exposure to the vintage, velvet boxed extraits of Guerlain, of Shalimar, Vol De Nuit and Mitsouko, as well as my initiation into the joys of Caron Infini………… I walked around for a few moments of whirl of giddying exhilaration and then bought the lot.
The thought of a social gathering, though, did most definitely fill me with a significant sense of trepidation – of going back to the former life. I felt nervous. At the same time, the mere thought of walking around that central hub in Tokyo in the twinkly winter sunlight – an absolutely beautiful, blue ozone day of pure sunshine – was enough to get me thinking that we could always go to the fleamarket together (as the website said it would be open); I could always dip my toe into socializing briefly at the party, and then if it was all too much, just make my excuses and leave.
The train up from Ofuna was uncomfortably crowded. Packed with people talking – an excited, positive mood. I had to gird myself. And so did D.
But the virus is barely even in the news in Japan at the moment (there were 30 reported cases in Tokyo on Thursday, which is nevertheless seen as a severe uptick), and before the inevitable spread of the O variant when we will probably be back to square one again, I found that it was surprisingly easy to breach our own protocols and find ourselves speeding up past Yokohama and Kawasaki towards Shinagawa, precisely the same as it was before, gleaming and spacious, tall and full of skyscrapers, even if the fleamarket itself and in contradiction to the website information understandably actually wasn’t on. I was just so happy to be there again though I really didn’t care. Seeing the empty spaces as we looked down from an upper floor, I could picture the glories of past scored treasures, of taking friends there, my family, among the now-glowing Christmas trees that stood there in their wake. This was enough; to be redeemed; to have made the move beyond the restrictions and borders, to be away from the dull city of Fujisawa where I work and where the mould of small city suburbia has settled a little too (un)comfortably into the upper crevices of my addled brain matter. The air up in Tokyo was sharp; clear; grand; exciting; fashionable: a capital city. It was just what the doctor ordered.
‘Bravery’ in finally plucking up the ‘courage’ to head into the biggest city in the world notwithstanding, our friend’s place – it is always so hard to find abodes in Japan where there are no street names, impossible without a smartphone – required us to get off at Shibuya, Tokyo’s most famously iconic street crossing that, if you are not in the right state of mind even in normal circumstances, can scramble the mind and the senses, with all the flashing Blade Runner videoscreens, overwhelming competing noise from every direction and seemingly a million people walking around you in various directions – this, neither of us were remotely ready for. Not yet. Instead, we decided to get off at Ebisu, probably the place both of us would choose to live if we could afford a tiny pied-a-terre in the big city, such a pleasing neighbourhood, and to walk up to the party through the streets of Daikanyama.
There was one other perfume destination on the way (another reason I was glad to be going back to the Tokyo); an antiques shop that has a stock of vintage treasure that I am not going to tell you about (one of the reasons I lost out on the Shinagawa Flea Market – blurting too much about it on here), but as I worried it might be, on Sundays it was closed. I will undoubtedly be going back though. Peering through the window I could see vintage Chanel extraits, and beautiful intriguing bottles I couldn’t entirely discern, placed choicely among the pricily assembled collectors’ bric-a-brac; but even the display window had some amusing novelties – who wouldn’t be interested in a charming perfume bottle in the shape of a giraffe?
But we were already very late – intentionally so, to a large extent, as I honestly didn’t know how I was going to react – and would have to get going.
But now it really was time to finally get to the party.
On the way, in search of booze, and finally coming across a convenience store where could buy some sparkly and red, right across the road, to my vast contentment, there was an undiscovered emporium of delights; a new ‘recycle shop’ to add to our list of beloveds; records? check. Clothes? Check. Cool sunglasses? Check (see above). Perfumes? Oh yes. Like a shark seeking blood I had sniffed them out in the shop within seconds.
But what to buy? Some things I did hesitate over (Clarins Eau Dynamisante? Did I actually want it? Despite the citrus freshness, was there not always something offputting that was lurking somewhere in the heart? I don’t know.) My heart leapt proudly at a Guerlain Orchidee Impériale, a parfum d’interieur in a bee bottle, but in actual fact it didn’t actually smell very pleasant and it would have been dumb of me to buy it if that were the case; similarly a little gift set of the Parfum de Lit and all the other Guerlain pillow spraying luxuriances; I decided against. Amazingly, nestled up front there were two bottles of the Shiseido violet that was the feature of my last review – such a strange coincidence to find a rare perfume like that twice in a row; some N⁰19 and Pour Monsieur locked behind the glass door of a wooden cabinet – on this occasion I decided to desist, but I couldn’t resist a vintage bottle of the eau de toilette of Balmain Vent Vert plus a very appealing bottle of the chyprissimo patchouli aromatic by Carthusia, Caprissimo, to which I am going to add extra patchouli oil, macerate, and use for generations.
I have always loved house parties – being immersed in another individual’s private space for a few hours is completely fascinating to me, even if in Tokyo, with some of the highest real estate prices in the world, any gatherings are invariably in quite small apartments where everyone is cozily crammed into a couple of rooms animatedly talking and drinking (and not usually dancing – not with all the neighbours above and below, and not where there is virtually no culture of dancing at all to begin with; it’s a different style of interaction ). Though I usually do enjoy myself, to walk into a party, though, particularly after all this time, even if there are only ten people, only two of whom you have met before and don’t actually know that well – is rather daunting.
As we took off our shoes at the entrance, I could feel my heart beating rapidly, a sense of constriction as we entered (there were no introductions) all the people there in groups, concentrating hard in the middle of a party game (so not me: I am such a scrooge in that regard, I have never been able to bear any form of ‘fun activities’, quizzes, nor ‘time-killing pastimes ‘such as jigsaws, and initially I thought I might have to get ready to bolt – this being the first such congregation of maskless, unfamiliar individuals in a very long time.
D, though, is far more effortlessly sociable than I am (a conundrum in a way, as I am ultimately far more of an extrovert ), but although he looks in this picture as though he is proselytizing or giving the sermon on the mount, in actual fact I think he is just immensely enjoying the fact that he is talking freely to other people finally – socializing! – and not just having to listen to yet another of my ‘riveting’ monologues – of which there have probably been recently too many. Ultimately, you realize, in coming into contact with new people again – the moustachioed Brazilian on the left was especially fun to talk to and has already been recruited for a role in D’s film with his Jodorowskian mien – how much you have been hunkered down within yourself in full ‘retreat’ mode and that at end of the day, as much as the social recluse cocoon has a strong and definite magnetic pull, it really isn’t that good for you.