Wednesday, April 01, 2009


I'm on the train again, bound at a ridiculous pace for Tokyo. The Shink always feels like we're on a jet that is in a perpetual state of take off. Strong G's push me into my seat. Out the window are the mountains of Kyoto and Shiga. I look over peaks and ridges now familiar, eyes tracing the lines where the trails are, calves remembering the pitches of the slopes. Further on, into Aichi and Shizuoka. Looking toward prefectures north, I notice the snow covered shapes of the big muthas beyond, lying in wait for the hikers to return.

In Tokyo now, I do my business, then meet up with Leza. The wine and chat is always tasty here. Recently, I've been really feeling the pull to be a dad again, so a few hours playing with Yuto is just what I need. Exhausted, I go sleep in the teahouse, trying to read but lulled into sleep by the wind in the bamboo outside.

The next morning I head over to Meguro early. I walk down the hill to Gajoen, a ridiculous structure of Heisei gaudy opulence superimposed on early Showa ornateness. The murals of the earlier era are still here, of 3D geisha and bushi, and ceiling 'fans' decorated with images out of a 1930s beer ad. It all feels more Taisho than Showa, and I almost expect to see Tanizaki in a smoking jacket sipping coffee beside the fake waterfall. (His hair is perfect!) Besides the garden, there is a mock up of a farmhouse built inside the far end. Jumping metaphors again, it is like a Vegas Casino with a pre-war Japanese theme, when the country looked more toward Europe than the States. Secondhand nostalgia. The number of staff here is massive, dressed in identical uniforms and strolling the long carpeted corridors like extras in a SciFi flick. (Metaphor quota thereby reached.)

I drop down to the concrete canal and walk beneath sakura moments away from blooming. The chilly wind seems to be against them. A single blossom of a single tree takes initiative, a fleck of spectacular pink against the dingy grey background. Further down the hill stands the Parasite Museum. I'd long wanted to go to this place, its reputation established both in print and by the word of friends. But I wasn't too impressed. OK, so I'd heard about the 8.8 meter intestinal worm; I'd heard of the photo of the guy whose scrotum would make a tanuki blush. Beside this, there was little more than dozens of small specimen jars containing a small fleck of white floating in deep dark blue, reminding me of those Jacques Cousteau shows of my youth. None of this really captured my attention, though it did make me rethink that raw deer and undercooked boar meat of a few days before. What made the trip worth it was the fact that, despite all the posters showing how to avoid getting a parasite, the toilets had no soap or towels.

I make my way to Ebisu next, and the photography museum. The current exhibit is early Meiji photography, not too extensive but just enough to keep me out of the wind for a hour. More than half of the exhibits are of Kyoto in the 1860s and 70s, so I stay awhile to look for familiar spots that are hardly familiar at all. Most startling is a panorama view of a Kobe twice gone, with avenues incredibly broad despite being decades away from the first automobiles. Stepping back out into my own century again, to walk Yebisu Garden Palace, that faux-European Meiji dreamland. I linger on a bench awhile, here in a city with few places to sit, a city made more for movement.

I eventually head toward the train station. In the past, I'd loved Tokyo, but this time I'm quickly agitated by all the people rushing about. I've spent a lot of time in Osaka this winter, but in that city there seems space to move. Here in the capital, I'm jostled and bumped near any train station I pass. Zach mentions that Tokyo people move deliberately, in straighter lines on weekdays, whereas on weekends the movement is more random. The reason why is obvious. This Tuesday, I find myself in commuter hell, faces pouring out of a mass, each becoming distinct on approach. I just can't go with everyone else's flow. I'm finding that my stay in Japan has begun to take on a parabolic shape, and recently I'm making a lot of the same 'rookie mistakes' as I did my first year here. I wonder if this is due to a subconscious emotional and psychological weaning away from my adopted home, in this, my last year here. Being so out of rhythm is probably related to this. In any case, I arrive in Yoyogi safely for my lunch with Taiko Tari, then walk toward Shinjuku. Near the station's West Exit, I see one hipster with a bleached mustache carrying a small dog of the same shade. The smoking area, marked with a Smokin' Clean! sign, has the population of a small village, all subliminally simulated by the large Coccoon Gerkin behind. I wander down nearby Shonben Alley, its no peeing signs an ironic historical deconstructionist critique. Toward Shin-Ogikubo, continuing the hike of the Yamanote Line that I started with Zach a number of years ago. Around me are signs of lingering hay fever, the sniffles of a few weeks ago blossomed now into full blown coughs.

I have a class this evening in Osaka, so board the Shink mid-afternoon. On these trips, we can often see those young women in uniform who stroll the aisles like beauty queens. I'd always assumed that they are security in disguise. Today, one is subtly kitted out in body-armor, an apparent new addition to this year's pageant. (I give her an 8.3.) This, plus the sight of a helicopter flying above us somewhere near Izu, worries me briefly, in these days of terrorism and bad action films. By Shiga, it's all long forgotten. Out the window, amidst the still-barren fields stands a single sign for the Shizen Hodo, a portent for another trip toward Kanto, sometime in my future.

On the turntable: Silver Jews, "Tanglewood Numbers"

On the nighttable: Tim Moore, "Continental Drifter"


David said...

I might have found the words to describe how I feel in some of the older sento I go to: "Secondhand nostalgia."

Very cool post.

Also, I thought I was the only person in Japan who listened to the Sliver Jews!

Chris ( said...

Would that be Leza of Sun & Moon fame? I used to go to her classes a lot when I was lucky enough to live closer..

ted said...

It is indeed the same Leza!