It never quite feels like I’m really back in Japan until I hear my first shopkeeper scream, “いらっしゃいませ!!!” We arrived at KIX at 10 in the morning and were at Bob’s apartment by noon. Bob, who very graciously held on to all of our wordly effects while we were away, had also offered to put us up while we await yet another flight. For the next few hours we alternated between chatting, subjecting Bob to a Malaysia and Viet Nam slideshow, napping, and drinking beer. At intervals, Bob strummed delicately on his guitar as a spring breeze blew through the tatami room. The cherry trees outside Bob’s apartment frame a large shrine. The night before Sean and I left for our trip, the three of us sat on the shrine’s steps, sipping beer under the moonlight. The sakura were in full bloom then, cradling our 10 p.m. beer and takoyaki snack.
These are the things you miss.
In the past 3 weeks, most of the sakura have dropped to the ground, replaced by vivid green shoots. A first for Sean and I; ordering a pizza. In New York you can have your breakfast delivered with a side of marijuana if you like but Japan sticks to a rotation of curry rice and pizza delivery. Sean and I never ventured into the pizza realm, daunted both by the expense of pizzas in Japan and by our fear of speaking Japanese over the phone. And then you get Bob, yapping away like a pro and suddenly we have a 30 dollar Domino’s pizza to eat with our beer. Delicious.
Last night, we belatedly celebrated Sean’s birthday with Bob and a couple of Sean’s friends from the dojo. Sizzling Okonomiyaki in Tennoji. Getting blitzed at our Old Usual yakitori place – the one Bob, Sean and I discovered the first week we were in Japan, the one we regrouped at constantly, the one where they came to know us well enough that if they glimpsed one of our faces, they brought out 3 beers. There were the usual orders of tako no kara age, gyu rosu, yaki onigiri and heart. We were six, clustered at a large table, a tangle of socks and legs. We stayed well past last train and ordered round after round of beer and hot sake, finally so drunk that we decided to buy a few extra beers at the conbini and park ourselves in the middle of the sidewalk. We’re leaving. We don’t care that we’re acting like crazy foreigners, sure to draw disapproving attention. Pass the dried squid. What kind of beer is this – “Green Aroma”? What does that even mean? We decide that if the cops come by, we’ll claim we’re having a Hanami. If they point out that there are no more cherry blossoms, or even any trees nearby, we’ll claim we’re too drunk to notice.
These are the things you miss.
I’ve been out of Japan for almost 3 weeks now and when I head to midtown to do errands, things around me seem brighter, fresher somehow. I feel slightly off kilter and even though the vast majority of our errands are done, I still feel a pressure bearing down on my back. I’ve had some time now to plan the Last Dance and am satisfied with my plan, even if I am unexpectedly emotional and dangerously close to showing it.
Outside, the weather is splendid. Locals are already complaining that it’s too summer-like for their tastes but I think it’s exquisite. The air is crisp and fresh, shaking out the green baby leaves. And, for me, the strange thing is that after 3 weeks in 32 degree weather, this Spring bliss no longer feels like Spring, but like Fall with its cool, gray light and somber mood; heralding the rapidly-approaching end of the sunshine.