Thursday, February 2, 2012

Wrinkled Memories

Kugayama is a little town in western Tokyo situated along the Inokashira Rail Line, and home to an abundance of green, most areas off the three shopping streets surrounded by trees and small parks. The Kanda River runs through the town, bordered by walking paths stretching for long distances which create a precious calm for people desiring more nature with their life inside the megacity of Tokyo. Kugayama was a good place to live, for many years offering me a comfortable distance from the concrete and unsleeping neon of central Tokyo.

I sometimes daydream about a magic switch that could transport me in an instant back to the embrace of that charming town that defined so much of life for long years. Oh, no doubt that time and distance tend to channel fond memories through rainbow glass and if the magic switch did its job we might find the remembered conditions not quite so rosy. But there is no magic switch and rather than instant transport I am left to fondle my wrinkled photographs while remembering a fine old time in Kugayama.

Some of the photographs below may be familiar to any who have previously looked through the photostream connected to this page. What is different about the pictures here is the addition of longer descriptions, something like a story behind each of the photos.

An early spring view out the window of my kitchen looking across neighborhood rooftops. To the right a faint glimpse of a just blooming cherry tree, a promise of pale pink that will soon reach across half this window. Resting atop the chest in front of the window are various pots and bowls holding flowers and knickknacks. On wet days the smell of rain fills the whole apartment through this window and when a resurgent sun dries the wetness light pours into the room painting a broad stripe of gold across the parquet floor. Looking through this window now, the faces and the kindness of those kitchen-side neighbors are at the front of my thoughts.

A diagonal cut of green railing tops the wall-embankment above the Kanda’s quiet flow. A cherry tree in full bloom overhangs the pathway, reaching to spread it pinkness over the water below. An open area behind, a small park and playground where mothers bring their young children to chase pigeons and tumble down slides. On many afternoons I find a bench in this town park and sit reading, happy in a quiet spot under flowering trees two minutes from home. The view is one I enjoy countless times from my veranda when hanging clothes to dry.

A dirty mess of half-wild plants tucked into a corner of the veranda. Some of them sit on the rotted seat of an old swivel chair that came from my first Tokyo desk. I miss the wildness of that veranda garden, where wildflowers and weeds often outnumbered the cultivated. The large-leafed plant to the right rises up, the result of biwa fruit (Japanese loquat) bought at the market, its smooth coffee-colored seeds pushed down into a pot of dirt. Thoughts of a time and place where everything grew with abandon.

The other end of that same veranda with some of the rampant wildflowers and weeds. The green here is clearly a summer verdure, a time when all grows at a voracious pace, seeming to pull down the limbs of straining trees. The glimpse of brown roof between the green is that of my landlords, the delightful Mr & Mrs Hata. Easy for me to imagine now Mrs Hata in a wide brimmed sun hat clipping magnolia blooms in her garden three floors below a wildflower veranda.

The walkway below in summer. The neatness of everything is evidence that gardeners have recently been at work. During some months this oasis of flowering green stands almost bedraggled and spotted with unswept leaves. Impossible to see through the thickness, but on the other side of this green wall bubbles a large garden pond patrolled by carp in multi-colored variation. Unseen too are the ground level butterbur plants which occasionally wind up in a kitchen pot.

Here a night view looking inside from the veranda. Through the glass of a door and only slightly visible is my longtime aquarium with its flashes of tropical color. Hard to count the hours I spend sitting in front of that aquarium glass mesmerized by the quiet life inside. Bothered by stress? Many would recommend an aquarium. The flowering plants are a white azalea and a very old princess apple bonsai tree.

A photo crowded with flowers taken outside the flower shop a few minutes from home. There is usually a steady stream of shoppers passing to and fro, headed into the supermarket opposite, or maybe into the cleaners or tiny camera shop—a spot alive with familiar greetings, gossiping housewives, the tinkle of bicycle bells, and the slow squeeze of cars idling through the Volkswagen-sized street. I can hear Satô-san calling out to ask if she should hold a portion of roasted potatoes for me, or maybe a few sticks of yakitori. The warning bell of an approaching train sounds, sending some of us in a dash across the tracks under a descending bamboo barrier pole. Five o'clock in Kugayama.

Back at home I start to think about clearing the table for dinner. The ‘desk’ under my elbows as I write these words is shown above in its former life as a kitchen table. Difficult to tell much from the smallness of the photograph, but the table is a handmade one from the countryside home of my dear friends, a beautiful piece made some years before bombs destroyed Pearl Harbor. One day a large delivery arrives at my Tokyo door and unwrapping it I discover the table shipped from the countryside by those friends who thought it something I might treasure. The table, still treasured, still polished and coddled now lives by Florida’s seaside, far from its farmhouse beginnings.


  1. Beautiful descriptions coupled with the photographs. And there is nothing like a photograph to instantly bring back all the memories of a place. That's why we so value those lively moments captured forever. Those stilled images are never that in our mind.

  2. Lovely post of what are your memories left behind. You are so right when you say that if you went back things probably wouldn't be the same. I have had those thoughts when I think of going back to countries we've visited. I think I'll live with those beautiful memories and not cloud them with what might be now.

  3. I did so enjoy the pictures and memories. Thank you.

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About Me

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Oak Hill, Florida, United States
A longtime expat relearning the footwork of life in America