Love in Tokyo

We ordered sushi for dinner. Half the people in the restaurant were too young to remember the kitschy song Sayonara Sayonara from the sound track of our childhood, which was our first tenuous link to Japan. While we polished off the last bits of ginger, The Family asked “Shall we go to Japan on our anniversary?” I swirled a slice of ginger through the soya sauce. Did I really hear that right? I looked up. “Japan?”, I asked. She nodded. I said “Of course.”

There are many Japans. You could visit for the temples and castles. Or you could want to see the crowds and bustle of the cities. What I like are the obsessions of the Japanese. I can walk around all night, looking for little shops which sell rice crisps (see the featured photo), or the vending machines with hot tea and cold coffee, or pachinko parlours with their zombie clients. I love the fact that I could decide to have a haircut after midnight and find a hairdresser’s open. I have wandered through streets, stopping at shops which sell ink and paper, looking at the calligraphy on display. I would love to go back to Osaka and look for the shop which made a name stamp for me. I have a fond memory of a little bar in a basement in Kyoto which specialized in whiskey and jazz.

What’s the best season? You can take your pick. Perhaps it could be the middle of winter when the streets are thronged by people in masks, and you have to warm your hands around a flask of hot sake. Or perhaps it is spring when it seems that most of Japan is drunk while the sakura is in bloom. I like the hot muggy summer, so like home, when the sound of crickets (photo above) keeps you company through sleepless nights. Autumn is special, when leaves turn colour in the temples of Kyoto or Nara and you are supposed to spend evenings looking at the moon. We’ll spend only a couple of weeks in Japan next year. I wish we could spend a year there.

Semi

閑かさや Shizukasa ya In this stillness
岩にしみ入る iwa ni shimi iru stinging the stone
蝉の声 semi no koe [is] the cicada’s trill

From “The Narrow Road to Oku” by Basho

Summer arrived in the last two days before I left Japan. How does one decide? For the record its not by the sun or the stars, nor by the heat and humidity, but by the cry of the cicadas.

Japan has a thing about these large and unprepossessing insect, named semi in Japanese, which are supposed to call only in summer. The monotonous ji-ji-ji sound which I heard while walking to lunch was probably the large brown cicada which the Japanese call the Aburazemi. If it makes you feel any better, the Latin binomial is Graptosaltria nigrofuscata. There weren’t too many of them, and it was too early in the season for kids to be out trying to catch them. But a few cicada do a summer make.