The Golden Hour

It was bright and sunny in February. I loaded up camera and tripod in the front basket of my ¥15’000 standard Japanese commuter bicycle, the kind everyone rides to the stations in the morning, and dropped down the steep roads north of Tama River, then hit the elevated tarmac by the side of the waterway, and headed east.

It was late afternoon by now, as I’d let myself be delayed at home, by nothing other than my own procrastination. I had a sense that delay might turn out to be a good thing though, depending on how far down the path I was when the sun started dipping low in the beautiful, clear blue sky.

All I knew was that I was cycling in the direction of Tokyo Bay, and Haneda Airport, and, on the other side of the river, Kawasaki and its vast, waterside industrial zone.

And I was right, it turned out, about the timing.

Afternoon faded to twilight.

Then twilight dilates into night.

Picnics and strolls by the water meet fishing boats, as steaming, fire-topped chemical complexes become visible in the distance on the south side of the water, and as the river curves, widens, and opens up into the bay, Haneda Airport dazzles into view, radiating brilliantly while passenger craft descend at speed from across the light-specked sea.

After getting lost in the highways serving the airport, I double back through an underpass, cycle across a broad, busy road bridge to Kawasaki, and steer left, through increasingly vacant streets, and into the dark and intimidating industrial zone.

It hums and smokes. Its overwhelming structures vibrate forcefully as it operates, sucking in air and emitting menace. Its corners and gaps harbour cold, lightless water. And though the whole expanse is rumbling with mechanical activity, its roads are empty, and there’s hardly a soul to be sighted, nor a voice to be heard. A single truck speeds up an access route, an alarm goes off, and is silenced, and, after forty or so minutes of exploring, and still not even penetrating deeper than one edge, it’s a relief to call it a night and get out, return to organic life, and cross the bridge back to the north side of the river.

It’s a long ride home now, hungry and tired. Back along the side of Tama River. That broad, black channel of water, that slices an avenue of tranquil darkness through the nighttime sheen of the city, and the glow of the suburbs, and the reeds and the wind.

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