“The meeting point”

Time and time again, upon encountering a faceless queue extending to the streets of urban Japan, this question would pop into my head: “What are they waiting for?”

Admittedly, prior to my arrival, I had heard of the discipline and composure that generally characterises Japanese crowds (especially at times of distress). But, I had never imagined how the waiting incorporates into every other aspect of the Japanese life, too. Thousands of people- who were otherwise unrelated- found themselves in the same spot looking forward to the same happening and I failed to understand why anyone would tolerate what, to me, was “a waste of time”.

However, the longer I stay in Japan the more do I feel that this is a matter of habit and getting used to, instead.

In the small Greek town where I grew up and the equally sparsely populated European north where I used to live, the waiting room more commonly alludes to hospitals and airports.

Edinburgh, first day of the long-waited spring: students enjoy the meadows by the university campus.

Here I’ve learnt that, the waiting room hosts mainly get-togethers. Social occasions naturally bring greater numbers of people together since specific areas of Japan concentrate the majority of its population. The Japanese have grown up into this culture; extra staff and services are provisioned for the occasion in both public and private sector. For example, the befitting bench or bunch of chairs installed to relieve part of the wait outside almost every restaurant reflects this tendency.

Yet while I can accept sacrificing part of my day to the intermission for friendly gatherings, I would not queue with my friends endlessly at department stores for the latest designer bag in fad. I’ve always found urban Japan a highly consumerist society, but this type of waiting in line usually surpasses my level of comprehension.

Nevertheless, the Japanese are simultaneously great consumers of culture and I have felt envious of their ability to enjoy sight-seeing and museums shows despite the huge turn-up. In such cases, the impatient Greek girl in me betrays my love for any artist and heads towards a lesser popular exhibition.

Yet, once, on the last day of summer last year, I waited more than three very long hours under the hot sun to see a temporary exhibition dedicated to the major installations by the now world-famous teamLab. I entered that gig after being asked to take my shoes off. The cool exhibition rooms stimulated my senses as I walked through cushioned surfaces and waterpool installations. I found myself wondering whether the moment’s sense of sublime had been intensified due to my drained energy. Was it the waiting or the show?

End of the queue. Estimated waiting time: 3:20.

Later the same year, on a slow Tuesday, I visited a show featuring another teamLab installation. This time, I could enjoy the exhibition at my own pace with no-one around to interrupt my experience. This less innovative but equally stunning installation is by far my favourite of their productions. Did the absence of crowds and haste enhance my experience? Was I given the opportunity to fully absorb all which the artwork had to offer since my spirit was intact?

While I cannot deny this possibility, I would not have minded sharing such an outstanding experience with many other people.