Japan Love

Japan Love

I recently re-read Ian Frazier’s wonderful book “Travels In Siberia.”  I am very glad that Frazier wrote this book as his wonderful writing supplanted the need for me to EVER go to Siberia. As beautiful as it sounds, as fascinating as Siberia is, the clouds of mosquitoes, the horrifying bathroom facilities and the unceasing “difficulties” of such a place are too much for me.  Frazier describes a certain affliction that he suffers from, he calls it “Russia Love.”  Essentially,  Russia spoke to Frazier somewhere deep inside himself and plunged him into an irrational and all-encompassing love affair with a country.  I recognize this affliction as I suffer from Japan Love.

How does this love manifest?  It happens in moments so small they barely escape being erased forever.  The spring sun at 4 pm suffusing the Kitamachi Shotengai with a gentle glow — the tangles of overhead wires revealing themselves as rhythmic whorls that dance into infinity.  A high school student, urgently pedaling into my private scenery, flanked by an ancient woman slowly making her way down the street, her bag of leeks clutched in one hand.  I know it is a scene that should not cause a melting heart — there is nothing dramatic about it.  Kitamachi Shotengai is not Venice, not Budapest, it is barely more exciting than Scranton. And yet I get overwhelmed by a sense of beauty that I suspect I alone see. My eyes have become new in Japan.  My senses are keener than I ever remember.  Tiny details stop me in my tracks — the orange poppies that grow like weeds in the sidewalks; the perfume of roses that gilt the non-descript houses that surround me; the tiny shrines — sometimes just one ancient stone, carvings almost completely worn away — that appear, un-celebrated, in the most random locations. It is not just views or smells, but tiny exchanges.  The way an old lady in a grocery store talks to a toddler who has tripped; the absolute joy exuding from a group of schoolgirls laughing as they walk down the street; the honest answers I get from my fruit seller when I ask if a package of clementines are sweet.  The simple fact that I forgot to lock my bike the other day and it was still there two hours later.

New York was my shadow for so long.  I identified so deeply with its crevices that it was difficult for me to define exactly where I ended and the city began. It was a dance drenched in metaphor.  Tokyo is the opposite.  I exist utterly on my own here — there is no reflection of myself in what I see, what I feel. And yet, nothing seems alien to me.  If anything I feel an embrace, a tender touch from the very heart of my adopted home.  It has awakened me, taken me out of my own head, allowed me to live in the moment.  It is a love affair, as fresh, as passionate, as exhausting and lonely as any romance I have experienced in my fifty years.   It is Japan Love pure and simple.


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