The heart with a mind of its own.

(Be present.)

The mind with a heart of its own.

(It's past.)

The dream that is your waking life.

(Go there now.)

Thursday, Aug. 26, 2021

It was the first time I had been back to Japan in seven years. The month I left, I sent out emails to people I had known and worked with, most of whom—Kiyoshi included—I hadn’t contacted in years. Some actually replied. I made plans to meet with a few people for lunches or coffee, but it was Kiyoshi who wrote back with an itinerary for me. I could come to Bizen first, he wrote, and stay for four days after which time he would accompany me to Tokyo where I could spend the rest of my time. He would make the arrangements in Japan and provide me with places to stay both in Bizen and Tokyo.
I was touched and a little annoyed, but there was little room to disagree and his offer simplified the trip for me, so I went along with his plan, only purchasing round-trip airline tickets. I told myself that I would pay him back for everything else once I was there.
Fall seemed the best time to go and I wanted to catch the fall colors in Kanto. It was early October when I flew into Narita airport, arriving very late in the afternoon. I took the Narita Express train into Tokyo. Kiyoshi had arranged for my travel on the Seto Sunrise overnight train. “My employee will meet you at Tokyo Station with a ticket,” he wrote. The employee turned out to be his saru friend, Hiroshi, wearing a dark suit and a serious look. He greeted me formally in English and seemed pleased that I remembered him. He bowed very politely before handing me a pair of tickets, one for the train journey and one for the room on the train. He informed me that the train did not have food service so we stopped at a small shop that sold ekiben. Enveloped in a travel day daze, I wandered among the displays of gorgeous bento boxes unable to choose one. Hiroshi allowed me to catch him discretely checking his watch. I picked up a tonkatsu sando, two shiso goma onigiri, a Morinaga chocolate bar and a large bottle of water. Overriding my feeble protests, Hiroshi paid for these items, careful to take the receipt from the cashier, and then walked me to my gate and bowed as I went through.
Once on the train, I had just enough energy left to take a shower (six heavenly minutes of shower time were included with the deluxe room) before I lay down in clean sheets and let the rocking train pull me into a deep and dreamless sleep. My alarm woke me up a scant handful of hours later with enough just enough time to prepare to disembark in Okayama. In Okayama, I caught a local train that stopped at station after tiny station before arriving at Nishikatakami, the closest station to Bizen.
Kiyoshi was working the day I arrived, so his sister was dispatched to retrieve me and my luggage. “She speaks a little English,” he explained, “so I think it will be easier for you.”
His sister Tamae was easy to spot at the station, not so much because she resembled Kiyoshi in any way, but because the station was tiny and only myself and two old women laden with shopping bags got off the train. Tamae was the only one waiting. She bowed very deeply and greeted me in English, calling me Christina-san the same way Kiyoshi always had whether he was speaking English or Japanese. My return bow (head down, looking at her shoes) was clumsy but heartfelt, a long unused posture. I had tried to brush up on my Japanese in the months before my trip, but when I spoke to Tamae (“Hajimemashite”), she only replied in English (“Nice to meet you, too”) so I just switched to English.
She took my carry-on bag from me and gestured for me to follow her. As we walked to her car, I was able to get a better look at her. Unlike Kiyoshi, she was not tall (I towered over her by about eight inches) and she was plump and pretty. In Tokyo, the women had always seemed—and were—razor thin by design and deprivation, but we were a long way from Tokyo. Even so, it would have been easy to mistake Tamae for a country bumpkin, but her stylish clothes and trendy haircut belied the truth. I noticed that she wore contact lenses designed to lighten her eyes. She was trying for blue, but over her own dark eyes the blue was dulled to gray. Kiyoshi was unimpressed with my compliments about her appearance later, remarking only that she spent a lot of money shopping online and had her hair done in Okayama, the nearest big city.
Tamae asked politely about my travel, was it difficult for me to travel in Japan since I spoke little and couldn’t read any Japanese at all. Her English was good—we chatted easily—and she nodded and smiled readily at almost anything I said, her smile showing off dimpled cheeks. I noticed that her smile almost never touched her eyes and it disappeared quickly.
She glanced at me as we put my bags in the trunk of her car. “You must be tired,” she remarked.
The few hours of sleep I had on the overnight train hadn’t put a dent in my exhaustion and jet lag was quickly overtaking me. I was trying not to show it, but like Kiyoshi, she could easily see past my act.
“A little bit,” I admitted.
Kiyoshi had written that I would be staying in a place that his company kept for visiting clients and I mistakenly believed that we would go there from the station, but Tamae’s next remark put that idea to rest. “My parents are excited to meet you,” she said.
“I am looking forward to it,” I said.
It was a short ride to the house that Kiyoshi and his sister shared with their parents. The house was larger than I expected, certainly larger than anything I had ever seen in Tokyo, and was set at the foot of the mountain with thick forest behind it. Kiyoshi had mentioned to me, years before, that his father and uncle climbed a mountain every day for exercise. I wondered if that was the mountain.
“Should I leave my suitcase in the car?” I asked, thinking it would simplify things later.
“Please bring,” she replied.
She again took my lighter carry-on and I followed with my suitcase and shopping bag.
I had brought gifts for everyone, of course. For Kiyoshi’s parents, I had brought a gift from a local chocolatier, a box of handmade pinon and caramel candy in a cornhusk wrapping that resembled tiny tamales and a box of dark chocolate squares molded to look like milagros and layered with silver leaf, and a small gift set of red chile-raspberry and green chile-apple jam. For his children, I had brought simple children’s books in English and toys: for the older son, a set of die-cast American muscle cars that zipped forward when you pulled them back and for the younger son, a small set of stuffed animals that included a crow and hummingbird and a coyote and fox. I had carefully guarded the shopping bag that held these things the whole way to Bizen, knowing that the pristine packages would count almost as much as the gifts themselves.
Just inside the door to the house, Tamae called out to announce that she was home, her “tadaima!” answered by a woman replying “okaeri.” From the genkan, I could hear a woman shuffling around in the next room and I set my things down and prepared to remove my shoes.
Kiyoshi’s mother came into the entryway wiping her hands on her apron and she bowed at me, welcoming me. I bowed, too, deeply, several times, thanking her. When I finally stood up, I could see that she, like Tamae, was short and plump. She had hair like Kiyoshi’s though, dark and wavy, and dark eyes like his, too, that moved quickly between expressions of happiness and seriousness.

retreat or surrender

More lies:
Now - Saturday, May. 21, 2022
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- - Tuesday, Aug. 24, 2021