“All the numbers in today’s date are divisible by four,” Huck thought. This reminded him of childhood and the innumerable times his dad would find correlation between the date and mathematical idiosyncrasies. “How fitting to fixate on numerical phenomenon as today was also the one year anniversary from when I first moved to Nakano,” he thought, “not since moving to Japan of course, but in some ways since settling into Japan…and settling in is slippery business!”
Huck then put a leash on his streaming consciousness. With earphones plugged in he started strutting down the metro platform to the space funk of Herbie Hancock’s Thrust album. In any normal Tokyo scene Thrust would be too jarringly alive to pair up especially amidst all the pushers, the shovers, and the faceless flow of blood-cell like commuters. Daylight Tokyo is tricky terrain for tracks like, “Palm Grease,” but somehow the underground mess of commuters just sops up all that slick goop dripping from Herbie’s keys. Reaching the grey building fronts at the end of the tunnel, Huck approached the exit. The abrupt change of scene to windy Shinjuku streets prohibited bringing Herbie any further. All the color, vibration, and momentum had no place in Shinjuku. He changed his tunes.
Not much music really fits central Tokyo’s impersonal skyscraper areas. Of course, you can mask Marunouchi with whatever you please. You can throw anything at Toranomon, and you can fade out the central office areas like Iidabashi with any type of noise: white, black, purple, green, leopard print. But one day Huck accidentally plugged into bootleg recordings of Bob Dylan on a sunny day near Toranomon Hills. “I left home when I was young, but I never wrote a letter to my home. To my home, Lord Lord Lord to my home.” It was perfectly suitable, like nothing he’d paired the area to before. Generally, glitchy electronic music is the pan-all play-upon-Tokyo music, but choppy harmonica wheezing riding on top of jangly strings marked by the manic up-down strokes of Dylan’s plectrum achieves a more satisfying accordance with Big Tokyo streets. “and it aint no use in turnin’ on your light, Babe”
Huck stepped into Shibuya’s slopes and crowded corners. It was apparently leather jacket day. When fashion modes switch up in Tokyo, everyone does it at the same time. Unadjusted beanie hats, beige spring jackets, tight white pants, leather jackets; doesn’t matter what item is chosen, but when it is everyone pitches in to help make it really have a presence. Today was black leather. He switched up the tunes to something more appropriate. Under the railway the words, “READ motherfucking BOOKS all damn day” stuck to the green beams. “Tokyo is so clean, even the vandalism promotes cleaning up your act,” Huck thought. Along came an ad on wheels blaring some J-pop idol singing famous Disney tunes. From the front it was all pink and pretty but after it raced by all the pedestrians were haunted by the psychedelic Doppler effect which deranged the aural space; an effect exacerbated by the truck’s nausea inducing fumes.
Amidst the warping tonalities and noxious vapors he was put in a Proustian tube back to the morning’s jog. He was bouncing down the pedestrian bridge crossing over route 318. He didn’t normally jog towards Suginami-Ku from Nakano-Ku, but he felt like a change of scenery. On the bridge he inhaled fumes which, as he hopped down the shallow steps on the other side, puff balled out of him. Continuing on along the thin road he passed a tea shop, a handmade soba noodle restaurant, and finally came across an unexpectedly large Buddhist temple complex. Most neighborhoods have a Buddhist temple to manage the graveyards which account for most of the clergy’s income and labor in modern Japan. However, it’s not common to find large temple grounds surrounded by green like this in the middle of Tokyo. Sure, big tourist sites like Asakusa and Meiji Jinjgu exist but Huck never would have expected to see an active temple running on such a scale in his markedly quaint residential neighborhood. And yet there it was.
Depending on whom you ask, Japan has a reputation for being secular or soulless which often seems to be the case. The Japanese, compared to the zealous atheists and devout believers of the U.S.A, are deeply secular. However, anytime he walks past a Shinto shrine or Buddhist temple someone comes along to pray. Sometimes they’re business women. Sometimes they’re old men out for a morning walk. In any case, the temples and shrines are frequented enough to make Huck wonder just what it means to them to pay a visit. As far as he could tell from appearances, they’re not faithful, they don’t proselytize, they don’t show any signs of being religious in a way that his Judeo-Christian influenced atheism can comprehend. Of course he’s read plenty about Shinto, Hinduism, and Buddhism in Japan; but reading books and understanding people are by and large vastly different realities.
It was during the seventh hour of the morning, and as visitors struck bells to the various temples in the Buddhist complex, the breeze gently shook the shadows of night onto the well maintained gravel of the courtyard making space for the increasing solar gaze. Monks moved like cats from one hall to another. Silence, then singing. Wherever Huck walked within the complex he could hear them singing just perfectly. The little hall from which they were (most likely) reciting sutras became a resonating box which amplified their efforts and poured out the homophonous phrases into the cool air.
This was all a prelude, it seemed. In just a few days Huck would hop on a very fast and exceedingly expensive bullet train for Kanazawa, and then onto Nara. So far Huck had accomplished most of his core Japan “To-do’s”. One of the few areas of interest he hadn’t polished off yet was his interest in Zen. Sure, Zen isn’t really that Japanese. At least not originally nor is it presently, but it undeniably influenced a great deal of Japan’s history and culture. Further, it later went on to revolutionize great artists from the 40’s on through the 60’s which, essentially, is what got Huck into this mess to begin with. So in many ways this vacation would be formed as a field-tribute to the Zen that influenced him heavily during his early 20’s. The opening ceremony of sorts would be his visit to the Daisetsu Suzuki Museum in Kanazawa. After all, If Dr. Suzuki hadn’t brought the philosophy and history of Zen to the western intellectual and art scenes of the mid 1900’s, then Huckleberry might not have ever come to Japan in the first place.
It was finally Friday morning, the beginning of Japan’s Golden Week spring holiday. A backpack, a shoulder bag, waterproof boots and a raincoat: he was ready for this, this long overdue alone time away from work. Exiting his apartment, Jasmine flowers overflowing the neighbor’s fence washed his mind clean. Daybreak’s cool spring air created new sensations all over his freshly shaven head. Heading off to Kanazawa early as possible, he was eager to check out of Tokyo for a few days.
He daybroke on a train to Kanazawa stepping off into the East Tea House District. An old geisha house which, like peering into a mossy courtyard garden shaded by red maples, delivered to him new appreciations and understandings of realities new and old that he couldn’t step into. The visual feast of deep red hues bordered by black lacquer beams and gold screens – he washed it down with a bowl of whisked green tea bitter and sweet. Strolling on through the city brought on caffeinated visions of healthily green municipalities where a functional city center wooped and warfed with the crossing streams of tourism. This woven fabric held strong against the cool, humid winds; winds which dyed the D.T. Suzuki museum’s contemplative space with the scent of camphor. The building becomes stepping stones over the void in its own shallow reflective pool. Splash! And the phantom fish disappears impossibly into the paneled pool bottom. A whirl of tree debris forms a nebula in the corner bearing witness to the fools as they come through, mystified by the fishy break-and-escape through the inverted sky.
Exiting the museum curiosity invited him to walk a sidewalk which curls around the back making a T, left to the gardens and right leading beyond the backside of the pool. Huck killed the cat and made his way to the opening in the wall which had been split, cut, and laid into the reflective pool just high enough to clear water and long enough to offer a view which tied up loose ends to the evasive flopping fish myth.
Next stop: pit stop at the 21st Century Art Museum where even the bathroom has an art installation. In an alcove audio and visuals projected forth onto a glass cylinder where the lyrics “Blood, blood, thank you blood” could be read out from her eerie voice. He took a dive into “Leandro’s Pool” and spent a few minutes at the bottom. After his dip, he was processed at the Xijing border where a cube with six different photos of his face served as passport photo identification. Performing your nation’s dance was proof of citizenship. How could he choose? At immigration Huck learned that every citizen of Xijing is president for one day, and that at the age of 80 the community celebrates one’s death regardless as to whether the individual is healthy, ill, alive, or already long passed away. At birth, Xijing parents write the name of their child on the child’s back and wash it off in a river. He left immigration, for the first time in his life, with a smile on his face.
After the 21st Century Art Museum he followed the Kanazawa rivers through town towards his hostel. Cute bridges connecting houses to the roads across the rock walled water channels put spokes on the neighborhood charm. Nothing touristy here, nothing cleaned up, just the wheel of life making its turns this way that way which way was the hostel?
Arriving at the hostel he checked in and ducked out to catch Kanazawa castle and the Kenrokuen gardens all lit up. It was the St. Nick’s candlelit walk through snowy trails in Switzerland, or candlelit evening walks in Wisconsin communities, or equinox fire of night festivals. The sound of gravel, the warm glow of friendly folk in the moist night air, the birds in their casual affairs. Bug songs, frog songs, and mellow timbre coming from the hut across the pond where a harpist plucked out mellifluous contours. People nestled close to each other and listened.
It was during this performance across the pond that Huck saw the first sunset he had seen for months. There’s no sky in the city, and there’s no horizon. Nothing to reach for, nothing to yearn for. What remains of the sky is boxed in by the scramble of jutting architecture. From the hilltop where Kenrokuen sat, Huck soaked up all the horizon he could while it softly set ablaze.
Sterile night electrics can’t compete with life imbuing flame, but they still wrote so much character into the shadowy garden views. Maybe the character was 静寂. Returning to the hostel the group of 7 hostelites each took a piece of paper, wrote an incantation evoking peace on the back, and then poof! seven little origami peace cranes sat on the table. The 7 hostelites were then informed that the hostel keeps the guests origami peace cranes throughout the year until New Year’s when they will all hit the living flame at the shrine and be carried to the gods. Lights out.
He daybroke at Kenrokuen gardens. An old garden whose moss and maples were well preserved, pines stretching out through the years and supported by numerous crutches. The garden had everything Tokyo denied him: the scent, the feel, the look, and the sound of life. Following the streams that flowed outwards from the pond through mossy hills and plum tree orchards merging to open lawns with majestic pines, Huck left the garden and went back to Higashi Chaya. At the district he tea-ed up, payed up, and then walked up through the neighborhood until he hit the path which mounts Utsuyama. The path becomes road, becomes bamboo grove, becomes azalea garden, becomes DNA shaped forest weave, becomes mountain top Shinto shrine trifecta. Three modest and weathered Shinto shrines sat atop the mountain. A shrine keeper had finished cleaning up the debris around the grounds and the subsequent peaty smoke informed Huck’s path towards them. Birds sang their morning songs with whoops and reverse feedback loops. He descended down their giant steps slippery green from years of saturated moss build up. As expected, a level below the shrine a fierce dragon guarded the washing water basin from evil spirits. Further down the mossy whoops! and hollers from the birding trees, the tori gate marked proper passage. He minded the center, lest he should bump shoulders with the wrong crowd.
From mountain top views of the icy mountain heads far off to the low city grounds of the old samurai (don’t think sword wielding, think ruling elite) houses, Huck walked then bused then walked again only to sit down in a private garden of the Nomura house drinking another bowl of potent alchemy synthesized from clean water and a most peculiar green powder. This visit to the feudal lord neighborhood ended in Huck face down at the hostel for a solid nap among the smelly cedar wood frames of the Japanese style bunk futons.
He nightbroke over countertop laid sushi at Ippei, suggested to him by the hostel staff and washed down with hot rice wine. He ventured back to the D.T. Suzuki Museum as advertising hailed it as another great “Light Up” night attraction. The Kenrokuen garden sure was splendidly lit, and the Zen museum’s pleasantry could only be twice as nice at night. So he walked and walked across town with sushi swimming around his belly in a cozy bath of rice wine. Down through the gardens, past the 21st Century Art Museum, down into Honda Machi and around the corner only to find the museum unlit. What a pleasant surprise. Sure, it wasn’t open, but that didn’t mean he couldn’t walk down the path which curves around the back. For the curious, the contemplative space in back was open no matter the hour, no matter the weather. So he did.
And he sat on a bench there overlooking the contemplative space which winged that side of the museum’s exterior. Night sky above and below. Cedar and pine of tonight replacing the camphor scent of yesterday. He sat. It began to mist. Then it drizzled. The pool became a resonant and sensitive drum head. For several minutes the rain crescendoed into something like John Adam’s symphony work, “Become Ocean.” And then it went out without a bang. No vanity. The “flop!” fountain of day found counterpart in the drops of night. Soon enough it was time to head back to the hostel for the group calligraphy party.
There were several different nationalities present, but first everyone tried their hand at brushing out Japanese characters. 愛、食、楽、幸、妙、謙虚. Then English came up to bat. One person wrote, FULFILLMENT, and another wrote, PAY FORWARD. Lights out.
He daybroke at the Kenrokuen gardens again, his third visit. Once for sunset, once for daylight, and once for sunrise. All of them spectacular. After his last walk through the gardens, he waited outside beneath a canopy of wisteria where he awaited a meal of Jibuni udon stew dusted with Kanazawa’s famous gold leaf. Having filled up he hiked across town again through another private feudal home’s traditional garden onwards to check out of the hostel where he found 愛 and PAY FORWARD swinging their newlywed legs over the river canal from the hostel’s wooden ledge. A painted stone cat bid him farewell and he waited out the time for departure at Curio Espresso and Antiques with the first coffee he’d had in a daze. Only 2/5 into vacation and already dazed by the perfumes of liberation.
The beautiful latte art was really something so he got to the bottom of it, and then made an unshackled stupor to the main station where he stringed up and lightly juggled through the air like a marionette as he found seat on the THUNDERBIRD EXPRESS. 12:30, and “THUNDERBIRDS are go!”
Between Kanazawa and Kyoto, the THUNDERBIRD heads first towards the Japan Sea, and then swings round towards Lake Biwa whose shore it hugs. Along the flight you glimpse bushy mountain hills, the toil and labor of rice fields, and rural towns squashed between thick forests. And then you glide into Kyoto.
From Kyoto Huck barged into a local train headed for Nara. The ride was like taking the not so rapid Rapid Express from Shinjuku to Hachioji: 50 minutes of suburbs. When he arrived at Nara, he bused across town to the famous Nara Park where deep, deep in the back he would be staying at a very hip hostel called Deer Park Inn. Why Deer Park?
As soon as Huck stepped off the loop bus at the Kasuga Taisha bus stop he could smell it. It wasn’t the smell of deer. It was the uncontested smell of too many deer. It certainly was green though, and at a first glance he could tell that it was quite large. Carrying his bags down the central path past tourists, dusty clouds, and packs of miniature deer no taller than four feet high he wondered if pygmy deer were a thing, and whether or not that was the thing making the rounds between the hands that fed. Some of the pygmy deer looked healthy, but the deer which abstained from natural foods and based their diets largely on these commercialized ‘feed the deer!’ crackers could be spotted by their malnourished look. Much like humans. Huck had mixed feelings. He was glad to be among so many deer, but he wasn’t entirely at peace with their condition.
After walking up the hill and through the woods he finally checked in at the hostel. 5 o’clock. He arrived too late to see anything right off the bat. So he Huckleberry hustled downtown to eat some yakitori. Yaki-onigiri, seseri, tsukune. It was a light meal. After three days of walking walking he was parched in a way that only lemon and liquor could quench and before departing for Nigatsudo Hall to catch the night view he put down a Lemon Highball. The subsequent lemon high stayed with him for the 30 minute walk back from the city center into the Nara Park where he stepped through darkness along the paths towards Nigatsudo Hall. He passed the gates of Todaiji temple and their soft reflections below. He passed the golden stupa reaching into the treetops.
Eventually he came upon the lit path. He stepped inside the light.
There they were. He was surrounded. Quiet, motionless, staring at him with their big doey eyes. He guessed there were at least 20 pygmy deer about him. He didn’t even notice walking into the center of them. He paused, they paused. Like the moment before a massive shoot out in some overly dramatic country western film, everyone waited. “They may be pygmy,” Huck thought, “but they were clearly enjoying their rest, and who likes to be disturbed from a peaceful nap beneath the night sky and protection of pines? Best not make anyone grumpy, especially the mothers.”
Huck made an effort to quickly observe where the real bambi were so he could avoid them. Then, he very quietly walked through the deer as they lay on either side of the path. It was both hilarious and magical, and probably one of the most vivid memories Huck took away from the trip. He pressed on to Nigatsudo hall.
The hall was lit up, and sat above a clearing on the hills above the park looking down into the city center below. A couple stood at the balcony chatting away. Once again, the sounds of night rang out. Insects, frogs, birds. Large lanterns hung about the hall’s exterior. The peak of Todaiji temple’s rooftop rose above the trees and cut a silhouette into the city lights below. He took in the lights and breathed in the cool night air which smelled so green. Then he walked through the darkness of the park’s interior towards his hostel. Lights out.
He daybroke beneath the final wisteria of the season which dripped from terraced beams of gold and orange beneath the gentle sway of leaves above. The Kasuga Taisha Shinto shrine opens fairly early, and one can observe the morning rituals, prayers, and cleaning performed by those who keep the shrines. There are few things as magical as sun rising up over the wooded hills only to flow deep into the temple area nested below. Next to Kasuga Taisha a path of 15 smaller shrines anchor a circuit path through the woods similarly lit by deluge from above and without.
As the sun continued to rise, Huck left Kasuga Taisha with a twinkle in his eye and due to this distraction winded up the back side of Mount Wakakusa. The woods filtered out just enough sunlight to keep the brief hike from being uncomfortable. Thirty minutes he followed the snaking river guide through the woods up and up towards the mountain (hill) top. The smell of dirt and the sound of water helped him wake up as he reached the top where, of course, there was a group of pygmy deer just hanging out.
The mountain’s (hill’s) name is ‘Young Grass’, and from up top one looks down on an large hill of short grasses offering yet another pleasant view of the city Nara seated below. Behind Huck and on a ledge of sorts facing the heavily wooded mountains opposite the city, a man who passed Huck on mountain bike up the mountain was busy taking selfies of himself as well as portraits of his bicycle. On the way up, the man made an effort between huffs and puffs to say, “Good Morning,” as did the joggers coming down the mountain. He crossed paths with a couple on the hill top and they happily greeted him as well. This was a constant theme in Japan: in the city people are mechanical, but in the mountains people are extremely personable. Not that it’s particular to Japan, of course, but any time he’s gone hiking the hiking folk are exceptionally personable and anytime he’s spent in the cities has only revealed the clashing and colliding of increasingly hollow exoskeletons.
The sun finally rolled atop the mountain as well. Its soft gaze balanced out the cold morning air perfectly. Giant bees buzzed about. Japanese crows hopped around the reclining lawn. From the top he noticed that there was actually a stairway and path leading quite leisurely up the face of the hill so he walked down and down the path passing a cherry tree orchard on the way. The hill bottomed out and he realized that the path was still technically closed to the public until later in the morning. His realization, from one side of the fence, was made simultaneously as a group of Japanese teenagers made the same realization from the other side of the fence. They looked confusedly at each other for a brief moment, like they wanted to ask Huck how and why he was on the other side. Instead they turned around and bought ice cream from a nearby vending machine. Japan. Huck walked to the short fence, climbed over and continued on through the park towards Todaiji temple where the Nara’s famously large statue of The Dude abides.
It’s not too often one visits a heavily trafficked tourist attraction and still comes away feeling a grand sense of awe but that’s exactly what Huck’s trip to the Daibutsu was like. On approach the temple itself makes a lasting impression, the Daibutsu (Great/Giant Buddha) in effortless repose imposes peacefulness. Huck had never seen so many people forget to take selfies. Apotropaic guardians stood watch, and children snuck through the opening in the structure’s column. They say that a child that can fit through the small space will reach enlightenment. Genuine wonder and happiness circulated the interior, despite the dense flow of sightgoers who normally trailblaze through cities with brief visits and gluttonous camera lenses.
Having broken the day open long ago without breaking fast, Huck pounced on the opportunity to chow between Todaiji and the two famous gardens nearby. A cool Cha Soba set was just the thing. Chilled green tea soba noodles with a properly wasabi propelled dipping sauce, traditional pickled items, two kaki leaf wrapped pieces of sushi, orange juice, oolong tea, and a dessert bowl filled with azuki beans, dango, and matcha jelly cubes. Not a bad way to breakfast. What followed was a ten hour rush of stimulants offered by beautifully maintained gardens, historic temples, stunning statues, and delicious food.
All of this head-feeding in the sun drained Huck immensely so he wrapped up with a visit to Nigatsudo hall once again to see the city off from above with a lengthy sunset watch until just before 8 o’clock when he made his way back down the hill towards the Todaiji temple’s giant bell tower. There in the darkness he awaited the bell. Behind him a deer stirred around foraging for goodies. He couldn’t see much, the bell itself hidden by the strange lighting. Soon enough gravel crunched and Huck heard a rope being attached. He waited. The deer moved away into the trees.
When the first strike occurred he heard a strange texture from the contact between wood and metal followed by a bloom of the deepest resonation Huck had heard in a long time. Maybe ever. The vibrations swelled through the ground and the bench where he was sitting. As the higher registers mellowed out the squeaky sound of the wooden pole being hoisted back could be heard like a swing at a playground. Unable to see anything clearly, it was only this sound which prevented each strike of the bell to feel totally unexpected. He knew that it was coming each time, of course, but he was never physically prepared for the effect that it had on his body. Once it was all over and the last swell of air was exhausted, he walked back through the shadows on shadows until he reached the hostel. Lights out.
Day split right open with a life altering revelation: Lawson convenience stores have the best donuts. Not the best 100 yen coffee, but certainly the best convenience store donuts and believe you me, the conbini’s are in the midst of a great donut war. Just like the Warring States Era, it’s exciting as a spectator but unhealthy to get involved in. However, Huck’s 6:20 train from Nara to Kyoto was a little on the early side for Japanese establishments. Conbini’s, however, know not the laws of men: donuts and coffee could be bought at any time. Luckily there was a Lawson conbini next to the Kintestu station where Huck had to admit that, as loyal as he had become to other bodegas, Lawson’s donuts were supreme.
The delight of this newly inherited wisdom lasted him the whole half hour of his unplanned-on-a-whim-wham-bam-thank-you-ma’am express train to Kyoto where he immediately set out to Chawanzaka (Tea Bowl Hill) in Higashiyama (East Mountain). Higashiyama reminded him much of the Sacramonte district of Granada in Spain. The neighborhood was hilly, stone laid, and featured an incredible mix of buildings constructed to look old as well as buildings which – judging by their construction – were very, very old. Tourist businesses and shops accounted for the majority the area but not so much as to rid the neighborhood of its charm. He tea bowled up through Higashiyama into Kiyomizudera temple grounds. Being one of the most iconic and well photographed temple grounds of Kyoto, he smiled gratefully on the good fortune of already using up all the space his phone’s camera storage would allow. No need to go photo crazy here, no ability to either. He proceeded through the lion guarded gates and into the grounds without distraction.
Tucked up high on the ridge, the main temple hall features a large singing bowl from which forms a long line of travelers hoping for a chance to pray with the bell. Huck joined the line. In fact, throughout the trip, he had been stopping at the prayer bells, offering small change, ringing the bells and listening deeply. He didn’t pray to anyone, and didn’t pray much of anything, but they were excellent opportunities for him to do some long overdue deep listening. As the line progressed and Huck got closer to the massive singing bowl his feet felt the vibrations expand throughout the structure. It became his turn. He lifted the massive cylinder used to strike the bell. It was well crafted, and well balanced, but still a weighty thing to wield. Not something you use lightly.
He brought it down upon the bowl. The ridge of the bowl itself was easily as large as the circle he could make by creating a circle with his arms stretched out in front of him. From the wide lip it belled out a bit towards the bottom. Sitting on the ground in front of this bowl as it rang out was truly moving. He passed the torch.
After checking out the rest of the beautiful Kiyomizudera temple grounds, along with its clear view of Kyoto down below, he went ahead through Higashiyama’s nostalgic neighborhood to the giant Ryozen Kannon statue. The Ryozen Kannon site is special not just for the massive Goddess of Mercy statue, but also for the memorials. A memorial to all the nameless soldiers who died in World War Two at the back and to the statue’s left, a memorial to failed pregnancies. At the later, a fortress of brightly colored pinwheel fans spun and spun away next to the goddess’ unshakeable presence.
Visiting the emotionally charged Ryozen Kannon put Huck in his cosmic place before he made like a cat into the famous Zen temples Kodaiji and Entokuin. Historians quietly awaited guests at every turn should they have questions about the temple architects, the history of the sansui gardens installed there, the history of the exquisite art built into the temples, the lives of the rich and famous, and especially the fascinating life of Lady Nene (Sugihara Yasuko).
There was one more KYOTO MUST on the list, even though he hadn’t really intended on stopping at Kyoto for the day in the first place. One more stop: and, yes, it was another temple. But the final temple on his Golden Week vacation could not have been any more appropriate. Huck bused across town from Higashiyama to the northwest of Kyoto. The auto-tuned computer voice signaling the various bus stops in English along the way made Huck doubt his ears, pinch his skin, check his reality. For the life of him, he couldn’t tell how the transit system managed to curdle sound into such a strange and unpleasant collage of vowels and consonants. When the Kinkakuji stop finally came up, Huck rushed out of the tourist packed bus hoping to Avalokitesvara that he wouldn’t be vomiting from his ears in some kind of horrendous aural reflux.
After his head cleared out the bionic bus terror, he followed the mass of foreign pilgrims marching with worship lenses in hand towards Kinkakuji. Once in the temple grounds, he immediately saw the gold leaf covered pavilion just across the pond. Distracted by astonishment he was ushered on through by security into the designated “Take Group Photos Here Please” zone. He saw beautiful people from all over the world, here on their spring vacations commemorating a joyous moment together in front of one of the most unique buildings on this sphere.
The sheen of the gold leaf covered building is actually quite humble appearing, in truth. The gold color balances well with the green trees surrounding the murky pond where it sits. The islands artfully dispersed throughout the pond almost outperform the once-burned-to-ash old pavilion. Exiting the grounds he had some toasty mochi followed by the most legit bowl of tan-tan Udon known to man. Freshly made noodles full of the sesamiest tan-tan flavor along with their in season Kyoto vegetables; these were the key ingredients for a successful Shinkansen (bullet train) ride back to Tokyo.
And just like that there he was, back in the belly of the beast. He recalled a 2009 conversation with his Flamenco teacher said in Granada, “Big cities are like monsters, like giant monstrous spiders – and their web spans all the life of the city. You won’t be able to live in there, till you make peace with the beast.” Well, Huck was back, and the beast could piss off for all he cared. He was home. Nakano. He was home looking like a fucking tourist. Dusty boots, rain jacket, a dirty backpack on the brink of bursting, and a Bianchi shoulder bag he bought for cheap at one of those sketchy shops in Shinjuku. He smelled of dirt, pygmy deer feces, and the charming spice of tan-tan soup. His eyes as glazed as the wabi-sabi macha bowls which launched him like a trampoline up towards the astral plane. His hair wait his hair!
A voice came at Huck from within the crosswalk. He’d crossed this very same crosswalk two or three times a day for the last year and not once did someone call out to him in the midst of easily 50 pedestrians. Crosswalks are black and white strips. Tokyo’s everyday uniform is a lovely mix of whites and blacks. How was he supposed to find whoever was calling out to him?
“AJ! You’ve become a monk!” It was the wine bar manager from Okubo, the first neighborhood Huck lived in. “Long time no see! How you been?”
He and Huck stepped off to the side and caught up. Sharing small talk, big talk, laugh talk and joy talk. Eventually, a tuckered out Huck excused himself and they parted ways. Huck felt the familiarity of the station’s south side wrap itself around him. Passing the miniature open market outside the first floor of Marui. Hearing the efforts, dreams, and adrenaline pouring out of the window from the boxing gym on the second floor across the street. Smelling the 9 different ramen shops along the short strip. Smiling at the old Chinese couple running things just like they always do. Wondering who might be shopping at the tea and gift shop. Eyeing up the apartment prices posted outside the realtor. Tripping on that same ambiguous bump. Daring to walk between the intolerably slow pedestrian and the oncoming cyclist basketing groceries for the family in front; her tinted visor still transparent enough to see she ain’t no chicken. Picking up scents from the flower shops, and the Japanese sweet shop that has probably been there since Kinkakuji was first built.
Turning the corner, Huck saw the local burger shop owner rocking his newborn baby outside while looking at the colors fading into the warm May evening. The owner seemed stressed lately, as his wife was nearing delivery, and Huck was both glad to see the man smiling again as well as to see a fat, healthy baby rocking in his arms. They nodded smiling to each other, and Huck looked forward to the next time he’d step into the shop to dine on nostalgia and digest some soul tunes.
Nearing his apartment, he could already smell the neighbor’s jasmine flowers. There couldn’t be a fresher scent. Their gentle presence on the evening breeze welcomed him home, and assured him that soon he’d be taking a hard earned shower. Bags down. Clothes off. Shower on. Towel Down. Window open. Curtain closed. Blankets on.