The great ‘layover’ we’re all experiencing reminds the writer of the epiphany he had while killing time in a small town in Japan
I can still see the shoes laid out in perfect rows at the entrances to restaurants and tearooms. The line of wooden shops along a narrow, silent lane. A flash of orange and scarlet from the picture windows above tatami mats, looking out on trees in a late October sky. The riddle of streets leading to a huge, white-pebbled courtyard and a grand meditation hall at the far end.
I was stuck in an airport town – Narita – near Tokyo’s main international airport. I was on my way back to my job in New York after a week of business in Hong Kong. The last thing I wanted was an overnight layover in an airport hotel next to a facility that had been the subject of furious debates for years: how dare modern Tokyo, in its rush to modernity, displace farmers and their rice paddies in order to construct a huge terminal with three projected runways miles from the city? But there I was, in the Hotel Nikko Narita, pondering how airport towns – I’d spent far too long near Hounslow and Queens already – are seldom centres of cultural fascination.