After leaving Taiwan, and spending a couple days touring Seoul, I flew into Tokyo and was picked up at the airport by a friend who was living about an hour north of town. We knew each other from college, he had lived in China for an extensive period and was fairly fluent in Mandarin, and was now here learning Japanese. He was also a musician and composer. We discussed the play I had started writing while in Taiwan and I explained my idea for a soundtrack. I wanted musical accompaniment for most if not all of the play, with musical settings for particular scenes, an overall theme, and musical signatures for the characters personifiying the inner aspects of the life of the main character; something to help identify the characters ‘Spirit’ and ‘Chaos’, as well as Chaos’s sidekicks ‘Pollution’ and ‘Noise’.
For the next week we worked together on the score for my play, while taking multiple trips with his friends into Tokyo to enjoy its nightlife. My second week in Japan I bought an unlimited pass on the Shinkansen, or bullet train, with the intent to see some of the main island, particularly the beautiful Shinto shrines in Kyoto, and the Peace Park in Hiroshima. To me, both of these exemplified the victory and resiliency of the human spirit; the shrines embodied beauty in symmetry and order, while the iconic image of the twisted metal dome atop the building that survived the atomic blast in Hiroshima symbolized perseverance, fortitude and indomitability.
The train let me off in Kyoto and I spent my first day walking to various famous shrines throughout town; spending quiet time within their contemplation gardens and admiring the order laid out in the building floorplans and the organization of the shrines columns and beams. This order is carried out on multiple scales and replicated in miniature in the patterning of the railings, privacy screens and the layout of the tatami mats which cover the floors of the temples. I found comfort and peace in the intelligently designed and crafted format of the temples, a theme and variation which showed itself in the smallest elements, the structural elements and in the layout of the entire shrine site and gardens. One could almost see the whole of the shrine in the smallest element, and certainly could formulate the underlying concept of it from these details.
At the end of the day I had no place to sleep, and hotels in Kyoto are expensive, so I waited until dark and climbed a fire escape ladder that was close to the ground on one of the high rise buildings downtown. I pulled myself up, threw my backpack onto the first landing and climbed aboard. To get away from the crowds and the noise of the city I climbed up to the seventh or eighth floor landing of the fire escape and set up my ground-pad and sleeping bag. It was windy on the side of this building but I was warm nestled in my bag. I looked out across the city, at the lights, and fell to sleep.
The next morning I had a surprise and a treat. In the dark of the previous night I hadn’t noticed the small home and enclosed garden directly next door to the building I had climbed. It was the only home in the area, surrounded by tall buildings. From my vantage point, sixty odd feet overhead, I had a complete bird’s eye view of the home and garden. It was old, a traditional Japanese home, with an encircling wooden fence that walled off a secret garden complete with a koi pond, small groves of bamboo, wooden walkways and gravel paths. The garden was being tended now by an old man. He swept the wooden walkways and trimmed some of the plants. He went about his business slowly and with purpose. From the fire escape high above, he looked small and his home also looked like a toy; I felt like a giant looking down on him, and I felt a little embarrassed peering down without his awareness. In the midst of the hustle and bustle of this large city he worked quietly and peacefully. I lay in my sleeping bag watching him for quite a while, admiring his work and the life he appeared to be living. I suspected he had had quite a fight though, in order to keep his home, when all of these buildings were being built around him, and the land was being gobbled up by builders and investors. I imagined him to be a warrior gardener, able to wield a sword, the law, as well as pruning shears. The morning light was beginning to break, though it was still early, and the sun hadn’t come over the horizon. I felt I should leave quickly before more residents awoke. I didn’t want to be caught up here on the side of the building so I gathered my things together, descended the fire-escape, dropped to the sidewalk below and went on my way to the train station.
Standing in the presence of the A-Bomb Dome, or originally the Hiroshima Prefecture Industrial Promotion Hall, provides a visceral window into that horrible moment in history, when the equivalent of fifteen kilotons of TNT exploded overhead and killed nearly 150,000 people. It is chilling, heartbreaking and immediately makes one sober and introspective. I spent several hours walking the perimeter of this concrete and steel memorial to man’s power of destruction. In the end, it was hard for me to believe, and hard to digest the power of that bomb, and the far reaching effects it had on the people of Hiroshima and beyond.
As I walked across the Peace Park, thinking about these things; I felt weary from my travels but mostly from the things that man does to one another. I needed something to raise my spirits and suddenly she was there in front of me. I don’t know why she was there, but she was smiling and happy and looked like a lot of fun. She was a Japanese girl about my age and dressed unlike anyone else in the area; she had an eclectic style with mismatching colors and patterns, funky jewelry and scarves, a leather jacket, and hair the color of cherries. She was the perfect antidote to my current mood and I smiled back. Her command of English wasn’t great but it wasn’t bad either, and we were able to talk together fairly well. We walked around the park and eventually made our way to a little café where she introduced me to her friends as her boyfriend. I found this surprising but also amusing and I was happy to play the part.
We spent the rest of the day together, and the night, and the next day she took me to her uncle’s house to meet her family. Her uncle took one look at me, realized I was American, and forbade me to enter his house. I sat on the front porch while she gathered her things together and tried to convince her uncle to let me inside. I understood though, and she apologized and explained what I had already inferred; Americans had caused him untold pain and the loss of most of his family members, I was an American, he couldn’t forgive Americans for the pain they had caused, and therefore I was not welcome in his home. I felt ashamed and wanted to apologize but he didn’t give me the chance since he didn’t come outside again while I was on the front porch.
After a while she came back outside with a small bag and we set out on our adventure. We decided to travel together for my remaining time in Japan; she purchased a ticket on the train to join me, and she wanted to show me some beautiful places. I was touched by how quickly she had attached herself to me. I was also a little nervous about this, slightly uncomfortable, bemused and flattered. She was very gregarious and uninhibited, singing on the train, and laughing with abandon at things which struck her funny. Occasionally she would draw attention from others looking askance at her flamboyance but she didn’t appear to care in the least. She was a lot of fun and she made my time in Japan very memorable.
When we returned to Hiroshima at the end of our short vacation I sensed she didn’t want to part, and I considered what it might be like to bring her home with me. It seemed crazy and impossible but I fancied us to be a new John and Yoko. There was never a dull moment with her, but how long could that last, and really we hardly knew each other. Still it was a tempting thought and as we rode the bus back to her home, and she nestled close beside me, it seemed possible and maybe not entirely crazy. I wrestled with this idea, and considered asking her to come with me, but I couldn’t. It was too much; I was still in college and didn’t even know what I was going to do with my life, and she was so wild, how would she like America, how would she make it there, and I couldn’t take care of her. Sadly, we parted, and I returned to the US, and I’m ashamed to say that I didn’t return her calls. Several times she called my mom asking for me to call her back and I never did. I was a selfish young man and had moved on with my life. She deserved more kindness from me and I regret not having been able to give it.
(to be continued)