Let me just begin by saying what a promiscuous little madam my heart is. She lays herself bare for any country to snatch up into its dreamy claws and ravish her until she can’t bring herself to leave. Show her your charm, your beauty, your quirks and she’s yours forever. It’s a constant battle as she has ongoing affairs with numerous countries, especially South Africa and Taiwan. Occasionally she opens herself up to China and Hong Kong, and now Japan has been hopelessly thrown into the mix too, and well, what’s a heart to do?
Oh, you got me good. I’m yours. I have absolutely no idea why we didn’t meet earlier. I’m guessing the universe knew that I’d fall head over heels for you at first sight, and well that wouldn’t really be fair on the rest of the world, would it now? Usually it takes at least a few hours, or even a couple of days before I declare my love for a new country, but with you it was the moment my toes touched your perfectly-clean streets and my nose inhaled that sweet smell of jasmine that emanates around your streets of Kyoto, mingling with the cinnamon incense that swirls up into your ocean of a sky. I felt light and was washed along in a continual spiral of excitement and awe as the days drifted by.
Your people are so good Japan. At first I was surprised by how polite and attentive everyone was, this isn’t something I am used to. Pretty soon though, it felt natural. Why are we not all like this? I like bowing. I like using both hands to give and receive objects. I like making eye contact and smiling sincerely. I like being in a place where everyone seems to be completely selfless. Everything works like clockwork and everyone oozes calm. People still read real books when they are commuting, even if they can only use one hand to turn the page because they’re squashed up against the door, noses stuck to the glass of the subway. In Tokyo rush hour, no-one stood on my feet, no-one shoved me. Everything just flowed.
And your food. Don’t even get me started! The epitome of exquisite. Every bite of fish, each sip of miso soup, each gulp of sake and hot plum wine left me giddy with joy. I ate and ate but I never felt horribly full. Your food is designed to live a healthy lifestyle, isn’t it? Ah, and your matcha, that green goodness. I’ve been trying to master the art of brewing the perfect bowl ever since my return home, but alas, it seems I will have to come back to your shores one day to learn from a real matcha legend.
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Quakes of the earth aside, is there any reason why we wouldn’t all want to live on your land? You have the most dignified toilets on the planet, the fastest trains that can transport you from the temples of Kyoto to the glittering streets of Tokyo in a flash, the quirkiest quirks of any place I’ve ever been, beautiful mountains and ocean and all four seasons in all their delicate forms.
Golden leaves drizzled the banks of your canals and I can only hope that one day soon I can walk amongst your showering of cherry blossoms fluttering towards the earth. I imagine a mug of warm sake on a snowy, winter’s day would also be a real treat.
I already feel guilty for not taking more photos to capture the real you, for barely scribbling a daily haiku or jotting down my thoughts on your culture. I didn’t read even 1 page of my book. I forgot I packed 6 films, along with 2 of my analogue cameras. I didn’t want to miss anything that you presented me with. Not the two old men wearing matching hats and suits meditating in the deer park, nor the giggling girls in mini skirts high on life in Shinjuku; I didn’t want to miss any of those moments. I can really understand now why my favourite writers are Japanese or foreigners who experienced expat life in Japan. Every corner of every street is a palette of inspiration. I created so many short stories in my head while walking your streets. Everything in your world is so full of life, whether it be a vibrant life or a zen life. And these polar opposites work alongside each other in perfect harmony. The gritty sex bar perched above a tea house. A Geisha buying milk from a vending machine. A monk on a bullet train. All of it fits. Your society works. As someone ‘passing through’, it’s easy. Aided with only a few basic phrases I was worried I’d feel completely ‘lost in translation’ but with the help and guidance of your people there were no glitches on my journey.
Japan, I will say sayonara for now, but I will be back. I merely scratched at your impressive surface and my curiosity and my heart need more. I’ll continue to attempt to master the matcha every morning. I like the idea of that little ritual. And I would like to get creative with some bento boxes. Somehow the routine of nibbling on little bits of food turns lunch into an entirely new experience. I like that. And of course I didn’t bump into Murakami this time so I’ll have to search a little deeper when I visit again. Keep being your lovely self Japan!