Thursday, August 22, 2013

The day before I left Japan I met W, an old friend, at Sugamo station, four stops past Takadanobaba on the Yamanote line. He had been living in Tokyo for the past year, but we had fallen out of touch for the previous five. It was good to see him. His hair had thinned into a proto widow's peak like mine, and we were both wearing a purple shirt. We joked about it, and walked to a cafe, sat down, had a beer, and talked. I told him why I had come to Japan and apologized for not getting in touch sooner. He told me about his wife and his son, who were out of town that weekend. We walked back to the train station to get his bike, and I took another train one stop where he met me again, and we walked back to his place to drop my bags off. It was another hot day in Japan, and on our way we saw television cameras and reporters getting footage for the evening's report on the uncomfortably warm weather. Sugamo is known as the hip, young place for elderly people, and there was concern that the extreme heat and humidity would cause heat stroke, particularly for those without air conditioners. We stopped at a temple, and W took my picture standing at the base of a huge sitting deity, a piece of evidence to support the unlikely scenario that I had gone to Japan.

When we got to his place, we had a cold drink and I declined his offer to take a quick shower, opting instead for a towel, a clean shirt, and a swipe of deodorant. He and his wife and son lived in a highrise that over looked a large park, what used to be the foreign studies branch of Tokyo University, but had been converted into residential units. The park had a large playing field, a pond, and two shallow wading areas that were filled with children and their mothers. In the distance, looking north east, was a large tower, the same one that I saw from the bus on the day I arrived, and an otherwise undistinguished urban skyline. We put our shoes back on and took the light rail back to the Yamanote, and got off at the Harajuku stop. We wandered into Meiji Jingu park and the dense trees and sandy paths made the heat almost bearable. Talking, joking, remembering college and his year in Iowa, where we met. I was a senior in college and he was doing his junior year abroad. W and I spent a lot of time together, playing basketball, going to parties, wandering around cornfields, and doing the college thing. Later, when I was living in Seattle, he came to visit. During a discussion about a frozen pizza in my refrigerator he offhandedly said that it was classic to have a frozen pizza in the refrigerator. I asked him what he meant by classic, and he thought about it, and said, "a classic is something that is always nice."

We kept walking through the woods in the middle of the city, and stopped occassionally for drinks: once for a soda, once for a beer, and eventually we wandered out of the park and headed to Shinjuku where we met P and his wife, an old friend who I had last seen fifteen years ago when during my year in Japan. P and I had kept in touch sporadically, and we had made plans the previous week to meet up. We had dinner at an Italian restaurant, the four of us, and then went an had drinks. Afterwards, all of us a little drunk from the ice cold Japanese beer, always a good, light headed kind of drunk, we went to karaoke. P and I started with Run DMC's "Christmas in Hollis" and then the four of us took turns: W a few sad Japanese songs that he kept jokingly dedicating to me and an Oasis song; P's wife some fairly upbeat Japanese pop songs; P sang some Nirvana and Weezer; and I sang a Willie Nelson song, tried to sing a Sugarcubes song (fail), and finally found a groove singing Bob Dylan's "Like a Rolling Stone." How does it feel? How does it feel? Which has been the question during the last couple of weeks coming back from Japan and starting the semester. Last night was the first night in three weeks that I slept more than four hours continuously, and it feels like I'm finally coming back to my senses, at least the ones I had the weeks before I set out for Japan. It feels good to teach again, to see my friends here, and be in the second year of grad school. It feels like I'm finally settling into Indiana. Onward.