The first time I came to Tokyo I turned 28 years old. It was the last day of a year trip around the world and my soon-to-be wife and I went to a little park, stuck a candle in a muffin and celebrated both the end of my Saturn cycle and the beginning of a new life that would bring a marriage, two children and 37 more years of teaching together at the same school. Crossing the dateline, I arrived in San Francisco and it still was my birthday. A memorable event!
I believe the next time I came was in 2005 and it included a trip to Kyoto to visit my nephew Ian. Then 2011, 2012 and here I am again and happily so. My Zen Buddhist practice with a Japanese teacher, homemade miso soups, “Ite-daki-mas” grace at the dinner table, reading and writing haiku, Akira Kurusawa movies and more have long disposed me favorably to Japan and on my 5th visit, it still holds up.
Back in my “confessions of a traveling music teacher mode,” with a morning to myself to wander before teaching 6th graders at Nishimachi School. I love noticing the little details that let me know I’m someplace else—the baskets beside the tables at the restaurants to put your purse or backback, hooks under the counter for the same, the custom of noticing when your tablemate is out of beer or sake and you refilling their glass. There’s the taxis with automatic doors that open, NO TIPPING (!), the traffic folks with their red wands so animated and committed to their work. The vending machines with items from coffee to i-phones, the park with a plum tree beginning its blossom, painters and fisherfolks around the lake, passerbys with their white masks at the end or beginning or middle of colds and yes, some heads-down looking at the damn phone, but less than some places. Temples in back alleys, the statue of the Newspaper Delivery Boy, the restaurant we ate at tonight where a portion of Kill Bill was shot, with a delectable stuffed shitake mushroom appetizer, soothing hot sake, fresh cold soba noodles and crispy tempura, with black sesame ice cream of the dessert.
Fun to be reading Gail Tsukayama’s The Street of a Thousand Blossoms, a novel that takes place in Tokyo. This time not staying in a Japanese Ryokan and miss it a bit, but still enchanted to walk the back alleys and roam through the parks. Someday I should venture beyond Tokyo, Kyoto, Osaka, Yokohama and go north or south and out to the countryside. But for now, grateful to be here again, jet-lag and all.
Speaking of which, sleep beckons.