For two years, I have struggled to get a consistently good night`s sleep in Tokyo. I have lived in three different guesthouses in this period; each has had their own unique problems.
In my first guesthouse room, a foreigners-only place in Nishiogi, the problem was traffic. Throughout the night, the noise of cars cruising beneath my bedroom window kept me awake.
My second guesthouse was a rickety two-floor hell hole in Ogikubo, filled with itinerant Japanese and a blond German who worked part-time as a nude model. I moved there last summer, during what seemed an endless series of earthquakes. After two weeks living there, I realised they were not earthquakes, the wooden building was so flimsy, every time a truck drove past, all the rooms rattled.
This time, windows did not cause me a problem; my room did not have any. My room was enclosed by the stairs, two bedrooms – both occasional sources of nocturnal noise pollution, and the ornamental kitchen – in 3 months there I only ever used its kettle.
Yet despite all these handicaps, for a while, I managed to scratch together a few hours sleep each night. Until one roasting hot day last July. Sliding open the front door of the guesthouse, I saw a small brown cat scaling the back of a kitchen cupboard – less than a metre in front of the front door of my bedroom.
On closer inspection, I sadly realised, it wasn`t a cat, but a nezumi (rat).
“There are loads of them”, said the slouch from Saitama in the room next to me.
“They have a route that runs through the kitchen”.
Suddenly, the scratching noises above my head each night made more sense. The nude German wasn`t scratching his nails smooth on the wooden floor; nezumi were marching. I left within days.
Since last summer, I have been back in Nishiogi, in my 3rd guesthouse. In a quiet residential area, with a whole window to myself, for a while my eyes stayed shut at night. I enjoyed a rare period free of daytime dopiness.
Then this summer, I forgot how to go to sleep. My body would rest, but my brain would not. I tried everything to tire it out, counting sheep in English, counting in Japanese, then in multiples of 5 in Japanese, by then I would switch the light on and sit at my desk to write down the calculations.
I got desperate. I consulted Kyoto, a middle-aged long term resident. He took me to the greengrocer to buy an apple. Apparently, apples help you sleep – acccording to traditional Chinese medicine anyway. We chose a fresh smelling red Tsugaru variety.
“Before you go to sleep, put the apple behind your head”, he told me.
The next day, we met in the kitchen.
“So, how did you sleep?”
“Terribly. I could not stop thinking about the apple, I ended up eating it”.
“Mmmmmm. Perhaps, you could try three apples?”
Kumamoto enters the kitchen.
“What`s wrong Tom?”
“Well, I suppose your room is so small, you can`t sleep with your head facing north can you?”
Now, not a compass or even an orchard of apples can save me. Last night, scaling the walls of my nighttime sarcophagus, the autumnal march of the nezumi began and I have no nude German to blame this time. At least their arrival alerts me to the change in seasons. A haiku would be in order, if I could keep my eyes open long enough.