The Genuineness of Japan

As I prepare to leave Tsu city, there are a lot of thoughts rumbling in my head. It may be inspired by the rumblings in the over laden sky. I look out at the turbulent sea while waiting for “Phoenix”, the super ferry that will take me to Chubu centrair. I have an hour or so to kill and I wait along with a dozen others who do not comprehend any other language but Japanese. Yet, I feel perfectly at home. Everything about this place reminds me of home, well a cleaner home of course.  I always try to ruminate about my experience in a new country like every seasoned traveller would do in order to make sense of it all but with Japan, I know not where to start.

My first Japan visit was in Spring 2006 and that visit left an everlasting impression in my mind. Japan always beckoned. And today, after my second visit to this country I know why. The people don’t speak English, they don’t give a damn but even though they don’t understand you or speak your language they are extremely genuine. They still want to communicate with you, go out of their way to help you out, be a friend not a foe. During this visit, I visited a small grilled meat bar twice. The owner didn’t speak a word of English but his smile was one of the most genuine ones I have seen in my last two years of sojourn in the Western world. Here, people are happy. Even though they probably work around 60-70 hours a week, in the end they come back home to a family, they come back home to warmth. Nothing has ever stood in between the Japanese spirit and sprite. Not the earthquake, not the tsunami. Life goes on pretty much through all these calamities, a point I had realized early on in my school life when writing an essay on India’s achievements post Independence in tandem with Japan’s achievements after Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The Japanese are highly resilient with the soul of a phoenix.

Japan has also been particularly appealing to me because of the Haruki Murakami connection. Japanese authors have been a favorite. Murakami, Kashuo Ishiguro, Yukio Mishima have all been bedtime companions during my adolescence. Like Murakami says in Kafka on the shore, “Even chance meetings are the result of karma… Things in life are fated by our previous lives. That even in the smallest events there’s no such thing as coincidence.” Maybe my two trips to Japan in the space of six years is no mere coincidence.

Six years have passed since my last visit, not much has changed. The cities, Tokyo and Kyoto have got more populous. The trains still run impeccably on time. People are still genuinely happy. The Buddhist temples still retain an air of mystery shrouded by an aura of the divine. Here, one can find peace, real peace. Amidst the fast, busy, day-to-day existence, there is something stagnant about the Japanese. As if they know how to truly live. Or as Murakami says in 1Q84, “Being alive, if you had to define it, meant emitting a variety of smells”. 


Nihonshu - sacred Sake barrels at 明治神宮 (Meiji Jingu shrine).

The Yellow Poplars of Shenandoah

I sat at the coffee shop staring at her. The contours of her face were unmistakably sad. She was pondering something grave, over a cup of Espresso and held a pencil delicately in between her fingers, almost afraid to hurt it. Her hair was tied up in a bun, and a single strand caressed her left cheek. A single drop of tear could be seen at the tip of her doe shaped eye, as if it was being blocked by an unseen façade. I wanted to walk upto her and hold her tight, console her and tell her that things will be fine. I had seen her all of eight minutes and forty five seconds and I felt her painful soul in the depths of my reality. I followed her noble fingers scribbling across a sheet of plain white recycled paper. She glanced about feverishly for someone, like she had a deadline fast approaching. My friend, who sat opposite me, nudged me at the elbow. I turned my gaze back into ‘The Moor’s last sigh’. A couple of seconds passed before I looked up, and turned to look at her again. She was gone, I could see the wee ends of her white dress turn the corners of Maple Ave. I got up and pranced behind her. She had started running, I ran behind. She was aiming to catch the 750 to Cloverdale. I pushed my hand inside my back pocket to realize I had left my wallet on the Coffee bean table. Thankfully, I had some loose change in my side pocket. I boarded the bus, and sat a seat behind her. She had opened her Sudoku book and was cracking a hard. I looked out of the window, to my left, at the Pacific beaming bright blue on this sunny afternoon. She had finished the hard puzzle and moved onto the next one. I listened to Cohen’s Suzanne on my Ipod. I particularly love to contemplate on the term ‘oranges from China’, maybe because of the connection with Mandarin, or maybe that’s how the vision of China and its imperialism is. It lingers in your greyness long after it’s gone. I outlined the back of her hair with my eyes. What tempted me to follow her? Was it her East Asian features? Was it the sorrowful longing in her movements, or was it because of a memory I was trying to recollect. I felt a connection, something familiar and fading, like I’ve seen her before. And then it all rushed back. She was my piano teacher’s daughter, Mia. I remembered vividly my first piano lesson. Hajime had played Beethoven, one of the symphonies and I was mesmerized. All my life I had wanted to be a cellist but now I wanted to be Hajime’s student. He was old, and bony with salt and pepper hair and a hunch. He had actively retired from mainstream, yet he agreed to teach me and that’s how I became part of a legacy. Mia was four then, no five. But, she did not play the piano or any other instrument. She did not, because she couldn’t hear. She was born deaf and there was no corrective remedy. When I turned seventeen and Mia seven, her mother died in a car accident. I hadn’t seen her hence. She was taken away to her maternal homeland, a village close to Nagoya, to live with her grandmother. She still had those doleful eyes, oozing melancholy. She did not remember me, not that I expected her to, it has been fifteen years since I saw her.

She began to pack up her things in anticipation of leaving the bus. I got up and walked slowly following her out. We were outside Shenandoah. She walked to her left and I kept up with her brisk pace. She turned another left, waited at the signal, crossed the street diagonally across and kept moving straight on. We were in a quiet neighbourhood. The yellow poplars were in full bloom and adorned the roadside like shimmering jewelry. She had reached her destination. As she walked across to the necropolis, the yellow poplars receded into colorless birches. From the distance, I knew she was crying. The catacomb etched, “Whenever someone who knows you disappears, you lose one version of yourself. Yourself as you were seen, as you were judged to be. Lover or enemy, mother or friend, those who know us construct us, and their several knowings slant the different facets of our characters like diamond-cutter's tools. Each such loss is a step leading to the grave, where all versions blend and end." I knelt at Hajime’s tomb, beside her and shared the indolent silence. She looked at me, and having shown a spark of recognition, signed ‘thank you’. There are some things beyond language, and this moment was one of them.Image