(III) HOMELESS in KANSAI
Weariness is setting in.
I visited my old neighborhoods in the northern suburbs, Minami Senri, Yamada and Senri Chuo, again looking for some connection that wasn't coming in clearly. I wanted a hello, or a goodbye, or something other than, "Here I am again. Was it really like this?"
Senri Chuo's surreally pink plaza had been repainted sea green, a marginally better choice. Except for a few new buildings everything was the same, quiet and residential as before. Though the weather was beautiful the end of fall was evident. Things were dying.
I had seen it again. There was nothing left to do here.
On the train to a semi-downtown district called Shinsaibashi I gave in to a dull heaviness and fell asleep. I had only slept for about four hours on the bus. When I got to Shinsaibashi I called Mr. Tokuoka, my old Rotarian counselor, who had offered to let me stay at his place.
"Pippu. Are you coming tomorrow?" he asked. I blinked in surprise. Hadn't he read my email?
"Actually I'm in Shinsaibashi right now," I said.
"You're here already?" He laughed. "What are you doing right now?"
"Wandering around on my own."
"Are you staying at my place tomorrow night?"
"Tomorrow night? Uh, that would be great, if it's still OK. Thanks."
"What are you doing tonight?"
"I don't really know. A capsule hotel, I guess."
"Ah. Well, you can stay at my house tomorrow."
"Uh, thank you."
"Pippu. Do you want to have dinner tonight?"
"Oh, wait... I'm booked. How about lunch?"
"Oh, wait. I'm booked as well." He chuckled wryly. "Looks like today's off."
"Oh. No problem, I'll call you tomorrow."
"Yes, do that."
We said "hai," about a dozen times and hung up. I can never get the hang of ending Japanese phone conversations. "Yes, yes, thank you, yes, well then, excuse me, well, yes, excuse me, thank you, yes, *click*." It goes something like that.
I had thought I would be staying the night at Mr. T's house tonight, but it looked like I would have to come up with other plans. I didn't blame Mr. T for this. When he had offered to let me stay at his house he never specified how many nights. I had emailed him the days I would be here and, when I never heard back from him, had just hoped that he would be able to accommodate me. I frequently misunderstand Mr. T. What can you expect from someone who says "yes" nine times when they mean "goodbye?"
Well, the improv spirit is strong in me and I decided to enjoy the adventure. It wasn't such a problem. I've always wanted to stay at a capsule hotel. But loneliness set in as I realized I was on my own today.
Nothing in Shinsaibashi looked familiar. All the narrow streets looked the same, lined with hip boutiques and hemmed in by power lines above. I was too broke to shop, so I wandered about feeling low. I knew She was working somewhere nearby, and that was tantalizing and terrifying. What if I ran into Her? Then what? I honestly didn't know what.
The weariness of traveling and the sudden change in plans had gotten me down. I couldn't shake it. I ate some takoyaki (fried octopus ball) and okonomiyaki for lunch, both Osaka specialties. They were delicious. Then I began the long walk back to Umeda through miles of covered arcades.
I was more depressed back in Umeda. I went to a temple I remembered, just a sandbox and a few shrines in the heart of downtown. It was a blip of serenity amidst the noise. (More memories, of Christmas and friends and Her.) After contemplating the coins in my pocket I decided that the most auspicious donation was ¥130 and dropped them in the wooden grate of the collection box. I bowed, clapped my hands twice and sent up a prayer for... something. I didn't know what to ask for, so I requested bartender's choice.
I called a friend in Kyoto and decided to head that way to see him play some jazz in the evening. I would spend the night in Kyoto as well, instead of Osaka. I had never slept in Kyoto, and Osaka would be too depressing. I was already melancholy, alone in my old home like a soldier whose friends have all been killed. I could imagine the evening getting unbearable; I would probably go out and get drunk alone for lack of anything better to do. I might end up calling Her, probably in tears, and make things weird.
No. I would have the next two nights in Osaka. I would spend this one strange night on my own in Kyoto and avoid the ghosts of my friends.
The crazy year in Osaka was all the more intense because we knew exactly when it would end. Every month meant one less remained. In December the first round fell, three friends who came eight months before the rest of us, and we began to understand how fleeting this happiness was. Not that we were always happy, but that never matters in hindsight.
The blade was above our heads the whole time, the date of our execution printed on plane tickets we kept with our passports. It made everything exhilarating and poignant, but we could never quite comprehend the inevitable until it finally came. Suddenly we were back home dealing with old lives that were exactly the same as before and yet completely different. It felt like Osaka had never happened. It had been a dream that we were rapidly forgetting along with our Japanese.
It was no less a dream when it was happening. It never felt real, nothing ever does. Today is a dream too, full of yesterday and tomorrow. But if I can't live in the present and yet hardly remember the past then where the hell am I? I've been dreaming my life away.
Well, tonight I am in Kansai, and I like Kansai, especially the people. Though Osaka is smaller I still find mind-boggling numbers of restaurants and bars in a single block. How can so many restaurants sustain themselves? So lonely, all those streets full of signs and open doors and people barking "Irasshaimase!" to lure me inside.
Of course they're only lonely because I'm on my own. With friends, everything is different. But alone—there's nothing for me in Umeda tonight. I'll drink whiskey in a jazz club in Kyoto and that will be fine. Enjoy this. Soon I'll be awake.