You know how it is. You have a plan or an idea to sit down and do something very specific, but five minutes into it you find yourself hopelessly diverted, and the hour passes with you accomplishing little more than dusty hands and the stirring of old memories, like pleasant phantoms that have come half way back to life. That happened to me this morning when I set myself to clean out yet one more box of ‘junk.’
No notion of how the letters and photos got into that box, old and mostly yellowed stuff crammed between ten year old bank statements and long out of date work records, but there in the middle were letters written by me to my mother as far back as 1964. (I got the letters back after her death.) With the letters were some brittle old black and white photos of my dog, Sabre, but mixed in with those were some Tokyo photos from years back. How all this stuff came together in one box I can’t tell. However it was, my idea of cleaning out a closet was forgotten while I sat happy in the dust and faded images of bygone days.
My focus over these past few days has been on Tokyo, and some of the things that come to mind as I make arrangements to leave after many years here. So this time also I will stay on that theme as I rehash some thoughts and pictures of the place I lived before moving to Kugayama. Arriving in Tokyo in 1982, I rented an old house in an area somewhat far out called Komae, where I stayed for two years. The Komae house was okay, but in time I wanted to be closer to the center of Tokyo, so left Komae and rented a small apartment in an area called Nozawa, not too far from Shibuya. The apartment house had just been built, and I was the first person to move into one of the four apartments. Small though it was in comparison to the house in Komae, I was happy there and made myself a comfortable little nest fairly bristling with ‘things Japanese.’
It was during the time of studying Japanese calligraphy (brushwriting) and trying hard to write haiku poems in Japanese. Total immersion in the culture was what I had in mind, but there are always and forever conditions that force you to the surface of reality, and make that word ‘total’ a relative term. In any case, I was happy to now and then visit the nearby Shakey’s Pizza and regain a mouthful or two of Americana. But most often, with the pizza swallowed and forgotten, I was happiest trying to live like a modern Lafcadio Hearn, one well-known American who spent years immersing himself in Japanese culture. This lifestyle worked to a degree enough to make my days both interesting and worthwhile.
Probably the apartment in Nozawa had little to do with the outcome of anything, but still it was for me a welcoming place to come home to, a comfortable nook wherein to read my books and practice my calligraphy. I remember one day while practicing, managing to tip my suzuri, or inkwell over, and suddenly there was a flood of jet black ink soaking into the tatami mats. But my teacher had taught me one important little homemaker’s tidbit: If you get to it quickly, after wiping up the black ink, rub the tatami with grated radish and that will little by little remove the black stain from the tatami. Works on clothing, too.
Photos: (1) a paulownia wood tansu, or chest of drawers with a bookcase on the right, (2) a low table I used for practicing calligraphy, with a desk on the right, and (3) a sheet of my calligraphy in the old manyo-gana style of writing, written at the black table.