The Life-Changing Magic of Getting In Line at 5AM

Photo by Yoshikazu Takada via Flickr (CC -BY-2.0)

Helen Rosner traveled to Tokyo on short notice and with no dinner reservations — and that means the best food requires waiting in lines. A lot of lines. Long ones. In an essay for AFAR, the die-hard line-avoider describes her gradual acclimatization to a country whose language includes the phrase gyouretsu no dekiru mise: “restaurants that have very long lines.” In the end, she found herself calmly waiting for more than a great bowl of ramen.

I was in Tokyo for the very end of actual sakura season, when the city’s abundant cherry trees bedeck the streets with a riot of pink. In anticipation, I’d packed a Canon A-1, a petite brick of a camera from the late ’70s that shoots 35mm film and runs about 50 bucks at a used camera store. I hadn’t photographed that way in years, and as I committed myself ever more deeply to my new practice of patience, shooting on film became a pleasing part of it. A 40-year-old camera has no LCD screen with instant preview—I couldn’t know which vignettes of Tokyo I was successfully capturing, and which would be preserved only in memory. Unlike enjoying the seemingly infinite capacity of a DSLR with a 128-gigabyte memory card, when you shoot film, you can only shoot so much. Each frame is precious, which means you need to make it worth it. You need to wait for the shot.

Read the essay