When I learned that going up the Umeda Sky Building involved getting on a glass elevator, I definitely paused. I paused for three hours, waiting for the courage to brave the most intimidating version of heights I had yet faced. That’s actually probably a lie, I braved the highest point in the Tokyo Skytree while with friends, but for some reason it felt so much less intimidating than a glass elevator to the top of Osaka. Maybe it was the loneliness—the need to convince myself to do something alone rather than rely on the pull of others to take me where I needed to go.
While in Tokyo, my friends and I had also gone to Tokyo Disney Sea, and while there I had ridden the Tower of Terror. I was a mixed bag of emotions, and I reflect on the event oddly often. It’s strange how something so commercial had such a big impact on my understanding of self. We waited in lines for quite some time, winding around the ‘lobby’ of the mansion. Fake artifacts from distant lands told the narrative of the cruel imperialist who took from other cultures what he wanted as his own, and he did so without asking. Nerves grew in me, but I repeated my mantra: “Does it scare me? Yes. Will it kill me? No. Then I have to do it.” I had already missed one rollercoaster that day due to anxiety, and this ride with the mother of all anxiety-inducers.
When we finally arrived in the narrative room, where the spooky thing happens with the ghost, but you aren’t quite on the ride yet, I began to feel the gravity of my mistake; I was absolutely positive this experience wasn’t for me. However, at this time we were almost to the doors of the ride, and the line moved quickly. Shuffled and shoved along, I couldn’t muster the words in Japanese to ask for the exit, so the crowd took me with it like an undertow into the sea.
There is no fear like the fear I experienced while watching the Japanese woman dressed up as a housekeeper locking the doors to the ride, the words, “MATTE KUDASAI” stuck in my throat, eating it away like stomach acid. Or maybe it was stomach acid.
We were trapped. The walls closed in around me as we began to rise, and I remember the feeling of suddenly being outside of my body after the terror became unimaginably intense. The photo taken at the top of the tower reflects b ack a calm and nonchalant me, barely present anymore.
Then we plummeted, and I screamed like I had never screamed before, letting the blood-curdling cries escape my lungs with ultimate force. At the bottom, unharmed, (I couldn’t say the same for my friends whose arm I grabbed in panic when we began, who was quickly developing light bruises from where my fingers had been), and filled with adrenaline, I giggled wildly, high off of not only the natural brain chemicals pumping through my body but also with a confidence at having defeated a great beast of fear.
Now I stood, gazing at the doors to the Umeda Sky Building’s elevator to the top. I stalled, heading to the basement where the entire place was made to look like earlier, recently American-occupied Japan. The lights there were dim and the ceilings painted black to look like you stood on the streets in front of restaurants and shops under the open night sky. Stepping through the doorways to this basement level was like stepping into another world, ushering up images of Hayao Miyazaki’s Spirited Away. I wandered the ‘streets’ while air conditioning made me shiver as if a light nigh breeze pushed through each narrow alleyway.
I thought of the sunlight, the late afternoon sun on my skin through the giant glass windows of the great glass elevator, and I only shivered more violently, fear creeping up and down my spine. I passed tourists and couples and families in the ‘streets,’ walking by a few restaurants, wondering if I was hungry enough to stall the inevitable with a meal. The anxiety, however, kept my appetite subdued.
It was evening when I managed to force myself through the doorway to the elevator, the sun low in the sky but not quite setting. Standing awkwardly between couples, I watched, making sure to steady my breathing with every foot climbed. From the elevator, I bought my ticket and ascended up a glass escalator—much more terrifying than the elevator but unexpected and necessary, so I ceased hesitation. I thought during the ride up about how heavy all the machinery must be and how weak glass could be. The sounds of shattering echoed in my mind as if I were possessed by the very idea of tumbling to my death amidst the sparkle of crumbling glass in the soon-setting sun.
I arrived safely, of course, there had been absolutely no reports of giant glass breakages at the Umeda Sky Building either before or after my trip. It’s distinct how anxiety allows statistics to become completely irrelevant in one’s mind, thinking only of the slight possibility and locking onto it as a future certainty.
I ordered some sort of sweet matcha drink, allowing myself to find a seat by one of the windows overlooking the landscape.
Then the sun hit the horizon, and the breath in my lungs vanished in an act of sheer magic. There are few words that can describe the beauty of the sun setting over the Osaka bay on a partially cloudy day. The colors of the sky reflect onto the vast, wandering waters and the clouds freckle the whole landscape with darker tinges of blues and purples, topped with fluffy white brush strokes. One by one the lights in the buildings and on the streets flickered on, reflecting now back at the sky the stars they so desperately long to mimic. All amongst this beauty is bustling, vibrant lives, and that makes it so much more beautiful—coexisting between the sometimes-devastating nature of the ocean, the city stands vigilant, welcoming each night.
I have no memory of descending the tower that night. I have no memory of leaving that place or catching the train back to my shabby hotel. I have no memories of any residual anxieties that could have hampered my experience of all that heart-wrenching beauty.