Post return to Japan after the holidays, post applying for fun part time work at a coffee shop, post receiving “Congrats! You passed the Japanese Language Proficiency Skills Level N2” exam results, post flu, post helping a friend with his dubious J-Pop project, and post getting the flu – spring came around the mountain like a new Emily Dickinson poem. Same old tune, whole new stanza of revelry and revelation.
Rainy and cold weather held Huck indoors for most of it, but as the plums phased in and out he made a few mad dashes outside with a backpack full of potential and a brain full of cabin fever. He only had two days of freedom to use before the Queen had him summoned back for five days of clowning, monkeying, and eikaiwa-sensei-ing around. Tongue-twisters, ice-breakers as well as other hyphen-me-not’s like balloons and blindfolds would be packed into his Buddha bag of trick-or-treat’s and toted station to station. Granted, this should all be quite the honor for it very much plays the tune of the tenth phase in the famous Zen picto-parable, “Ten Bulls” (Ten Oxen), in which having transcended the self (as well as the bull, the whips, the ropes, and other kinky paraphernalia involved in this classic Zen tale) the having-transcended-pro-and-anti protagonist returns to society barefoot and half naked like a Woodstock vet on the Rainbow Road dishing out toys and games to the children of the world from their dusty rucksack.
But, what stressful and tiring business it is to work irregular hours running around in a classroom full of screaming, laughing, kicking, and universe creating children! Let us not forget, where there is creation there is also destruction. So on this day of rest, Huck played it cool. He tore off another tear away Tear O’ Card Calendar page. “Savage Indulgence.” He would start this savage indulgence, of course, with a hot cup of functionality.
Glitch Coffee Roasters supplies several Tokyo shops currently riding the high tides of international bean fashions. Whoever can best replicate the top stores abroad will ultimately define the best stores here. Pretty simple recipe but Glitch does produce some exceptional light roasted coffee. Today, Huck would head out to Counterpart Coffee Gallery nestled neatly between the dirty crevices of Shinjuku and Shibuya. Technically its address is in Shibuya, but we all know how to get there: Oedo-sen. West Shinjuku Block 5 on the Oedo line will drop you off at Counterpart’s sliding-door step. Now, don’t be fooled by the Kanji in its name, the O in Oedo actually stands for O as in Oh, because whenever you find out you have to use the Oedo metro line the first word that comes out of your disappointed mouth is, “oh,” as in “oh, that 48 meters (157 ft.) below ground metro line whose train cars look like what the 1980’s thought futuristic deep tunnel military emergency train cars should look like Toei Oedo metro line.” Said Toei Oedo line is all at once the most round about line to take anywhere and simultaneously, suspiciously, also connects to every other metro line in the city at some point on its evacuation circuit peculiar lasso shaped loop around downtown Tokyo.
Huck descended down the boring escalator rides meant to entertain the time between entering a Toei Oedo station and arriving at the subway platform 150 feet below. After a nap, and a cup of tea, he finally stepped off the amuseless ride only for his starlit commuter hopes to be confronted by heavy booms and beats bailing out of the pair of headphones some idiot lost on the ceiling. On the ceiling, my friends. The headphones rattled away delivering the most wretched podcast imaginable. Over and over, the radio dj’s delivered heaps of monotonous upon the old echo chamber 50 meters below sanity. Huck came to the conclusion that either the dj’s were rehearsing their lines for the real deal later on, or their jumbles were what amounted to so much sheep herding. Luckily, he didn’t have to wait long, the metro scooted up.
Skidaddling out of the West Shinjuku station onto the polluted but spotless streets of Tokyo, he Huckleberry hustled over to Counterpart. A group of three travelers inside the shop turned to him as he slithered through the slide door. “Konnichiwa!” they said to him with sincere glee and chuckles.
Huck briefly forced a smile and said, “It is sublimely early indeed,” making sure to leave just a dash of embarrassment in his eyes to sell the cake. It has to look real after all. Wax foods aren’t playthings for the hungry. Turning quickly 90 degrees left towards the counter and 90 degrees away from the hipster tourists he ordered his damn coffee.
“Hey, your Japanese is pretty good,” said the goateed, bereted barista.
“.” Huck responded. He even tried. At this point, he just didn’t know how to respond any more than by pretending they didn’t say anything and just moving along with the conversation as if the compliment never happened. He’d gone through the phases. Denial: “Oh, no no no – I’m only just beginning!” Frustration: “Look, let’s be real. It’s not that good.” Compromise: “Well, if you mean compared to the 8 a.m. konnichiwa hipsters over there discussing the ways they prefer to make tiramisu then yeah – I can see where you’re coming from. It’s ok. I guess it’s ok to say that my Japanese is O.K.” Depression: “BUT IS THAT REALLY WHERE YOU’RE COMING FROM? IT CAN’T BE!” Acceptance: “Yeah, it sure is cold today. Hey, can I get one of those apple and sweet potato baked thingamajigs you got over there. They smell pretty good.” Huck finally responded.
“Yea man f’sho!” said the barista. They took care of business and the next customer slid open the door, folding up his umbrella and placed his order as he tried to finagle his umbrella into the stuffed umbrella bin.
The Cotton Hatter female barista makes his Kenyan coffee with discipline and then brings it over. “Here you go. Kenyan. Do you live near here?”
“Yep. Two stations away. Shin-Nakano. Pretty close.” Huck said.
“Pretty close,” said the mad hatter. She left him to his business and she went about hers.
What was his business? Trading in the phantoms of dreams for the phantoms of daily life: destination Adult. Boy did he get there. He was journaling. Listing. Planning. Thinking his way through the pleasures of timeline’s taunts. Vacations, trips and holidays have long replaced the sirens on top of those jagged rocks. “Come, work your heart out to get here so you can play!” they say. Sure, getting wrecked on your vacation is alright – but at least get there in good health. A half drowned pirate is no use to a half beached mermaid. Anyhow, where was he? Musing, writing, letting the murky waters of sleep roll back into his head. Suddenly, the barista who made his coffee took it upon herself to make conversation with him during a lull.
“What’s your name?” she said.
“AJ”, Huck said. “What’s yours?”
“Natalie,” Natsuki said.
“Nice to meet you. Be nice to me.” They both said.
“Nice to meet you. Be nice to me.” They both said again, finding it strange to say the same thing at the same time.
Now that the formalities were out of the way, they shot the shit for a bit.
“We usually don’t make customers sit cramped over there on the bar behind the espresso machine. Just that the boss has the bike in today due to the rain” said Natalie.
“I thought that was a strange place for the bike. Nice bike though. Someone clearly went through lots of money to make it a pleasurable ride,” Huck said.
Natalie smiled, but only with her lips, before saying, “Well, this bike usually sits out front of the store, for appeal. But the boss doesn’t want the rain to ruin the piece so we lean it up against that window.”
There was a bit of a lull. Huck was deciding how far to entertain the conversation. In all honesty he came to distrust the politeness and friendliness of Japanese people. Not its sincerity, but its compatibility with his own ingrained ideas of friendliness and politeness. He didn’t want to make her feel like she had to make small talk with him for the sake of business protocol. But, maybe he’d continue on today.
“Coffee’s good, by the way. But I’m a little low. Any espresso recommendations?” Huck said.
“Yeah! The natural process Ethiopia,” she said. She seemed pretty lit up. Maybe Huck hadn’t pushed his luck after all. “You’re second drink here is half off, by the way. Just espresso?”
Huck made his way to the counter tripping a bit as he fished change out of his backpack. “Yeah, straight espresso please.” He passed her 220 yen and she dosed, grinded, groomed and extracted a fine shot of espresso. “Have you guys been open long?” Huck said.
“Not entirely. We opened 2 months ago, but the roasters have been around for a little longer. Here you go.”
“Thanks. Pretty solid business for just two months. Reminds me a bit of back home strangely. Maybe it’s the music. Is this Charles Bradley?” he asked.
“Charles Bradley? No idea really. The barista in here before who took your order, he’s upstairs now, but he’s the one who knows the music here. Mind if I sneak past you?” she pointed behind him.
Huck looked over his left shoulder and beneath the staircase he saw the sound system along with a few rows of cd’s.
Huck shifted over and she grabbed a few of the cd’s. “Maybe it’s, Seal?” she said judging by the cd cases.
“What? Seal? No way.” Huck said in disbelief. Maybe in horror.
“I don’t know. Like I said, he knows the music here.” Natalie said returning behind the counter.
Huck finished the shot. “This Ethiopian was delicious, by the way.” Huck put the cup and saucer on the bar and then attempted to gather his stuff together as gracefully as possible.
As is customary just about everywhere in Japan, Natalie ushered Huck out of the shop following him to the door and saying farewell as he left.
With newfound functionality, Huck made his way on to the gardens way out west on the Chuo Line in the burbs of Tokyo.
Huck normally took the Chuo out past Kokubunji on his long commutes during the work week. The Chuo line heads due west from Shinjuku out towards the end of Tokyo prefecture and the beginning of real Japan. It’s famous for spring suicide delays, the five thousand stops between Shinjuku and wherever your destination is, as well the few cities that experienced cultural booms during the Showa era. It’s actually quite a pleasant train line to live on compared to other parts of Tokyo. Huck got on at Shinjuku station and took out a book to stick his head in lest it should be blown away by the dull monotony of riding the Chuo line to Kokubunji. There were no rapid express or rapid trains for the next twenty minutes. “Local” stop –stop trains were his only option.
“The next stop is Kokubunji. Exit on you right side.” Compared to the station platforms, the government takes measures to equip these trains with their own speakers. Their programs are properly rehearsed but they still lack substance. This captive broadcasting is either taken in by the submissive, or blocked out by the rebellious who, like many rebels, are hoisted by their own petards. These counterculture rebels essentially lead an ineffective campaign, unless that campaign is to obliterate their hearing.
Stepping out onto the platform, he put his book away and headed out the station through the bakery shop crowded south exit and down the alley towards Tonogayato Teien. He could hear Jim.
“We did make it out to the plum trees atop that garden, you know out on the Keio Line. I told you about that, right? Me and my family were worried it would rain but sure enough it was quite nice! Here, take a look at the photos we took. Peak blossoming for the plums there. And you know there really weren’t many people. It’s not a well known, or at least to my eyes, well traversed park. You should definitely go. It’s almost like the Tonogayato Teien in Kokubunji,” Huck remembered his co-worker saying during one ten minute slot between classes. The mention of Kokubunji brought Huck’s pointed ears around. He was always looking for an excuse to step off at Kokubunji, as he passed it nearly every day during his government endorsed torture treatment on the Chuo theme-less ride.
“Kokubunji? What kind of garden is the Tonogayato Teien?” Huck asked.
“Well, right around the turn of the century, not this one of course, but the last one. Right around the 1900 mark one of the power house families who have managed to retain wealth throughout the violent swings of history, think you know – like the Mitsubishi families and the like – yeah they had a country home and garden in Kokubunji when Kokubunji was just, well the country I guess as at that time Tokyo wasn’t nearly as spread out as it is now. Over the years Kokubunji became less and less a getaway spot just outside the city and one of the wealthy family ended up donating it to the government. It’s a really nice garden. Yeah, you should check it out.”
Even in Huck’s memories just days after his initial briefing, the length of Jim’s comments couldn’t be updated to a 2016 format. Everthemore, Huck was grateful of course. Jim’s information had always been on point, never disappointing.
There he was. It took just about as much time to replay the memory as to arrive at the garden entrance. A helicopter sat fat to the northwest shelling out dull vibrations like a boulder in shallow waters. Nearby some howling gremlins had escaped the confines of chalky boards and dusty curtained windows terrorizing the streets. The smell of fallen plum blossoms littered the air leading from the gravel walkway towards the ticket booth.
“One fake ass bitch?” asked the old man.
“Yep, just one I’m afraid.” Huck responded.
“Here you go, buck fifty please,” the old man said gently slipping the ticket beneath the plastic shield between him and legions of savage tourists.
Huck returned his living wage yen back to The Source. 150 yen wasn’t much to part with, but separation took its toll nonetheless.
“Thanks,” Huck said. “Entry just over there?”
A seasoned set of wrinkles smiled up with a nod, after which the old man said, “Yep, and there are maps in multiple languages just to your left if you want one. Enjoy!”
Giant pines and cedars skytree-ed above an ambiguous lawn whose center piece ruptured the space with humble harmony. The smoothest giant’s skipping stone emerged sunny side up from the earth just before a stout boulder sized maze of gnarls and needles. Huck moved on. How many meters high does bamboo grow? He could hardly tell. If one looks up into the leafy sways near the top, the suspicious movements filter sunlight into a finely distorted shimmer. However much a mirage they can be up top backed by the sun, near the base they’re exceptionally sturdy and simple; just a cylinder shooting up into the sky. Bamboo, just another one of nature’s goofballs. Huck moved on. The path teased out into a pond. All sides of the pond wrapped up towards the sky giving depth to the view from both above and below. Water from the bamboo thuh-dunk maker flowed down from the top parting into three or four paths as it raced downwards to the pond below. Like any traditional Japanese garden worth its wabi, anywhere a carpenter could fix a bridge one instead found a series of delightfully shaped boulders or rocks joined together by the flowing water which they parted.
Hopping up the stones, Huck sat down beneath the roofed patio. Every 17 seconds or so the thuh-dunk maker would fill with water, tip all the way over, and knocking its back end against the stones below create a terrifying awareness of just how pleasantly quite Kokubunji is. At some point one of the thuh-dunk’s caused Huck to reflect on how exhausting the noise of pollution in central Tokyo is. After that, it was just, “thuh-dunk,” every few 17 seconds or so.
“Tokyo’s been good but, now all the boxes have been checked and the remaining ones lie beyond Tokyo in other parts of Japan.” Thuh-dunk.
“Time to make some lists, make preparations to tackle the next projects.” Thuh-dunk.
“But, maybe still too soon to be hooked on time again.”
“This pace is nice.” Thuh-dunk.
Huck moved on.