(IV) HOLED UP in KYOTO
I took a train to Kyoto. First time on the Kawaramachi line in eight years, but after a certain point these “first times” don't mean much. I barely remembered the Kawaramachi line, anyway.
Kyoto is a chilled-out town, small but crammed with history. The Allies spared it during World War II because of its historical significance, so Old Japan is strong still. Everywhere, dark wood and sliding doors, tiled roofs and impossibly tiny streets dotted with shrines.
My plan was to find a capsule hotel near the club where my friend was playing. I knew hotels would be sparse in that residential area, but for some reason I lugged my wheeled suitcase out to the edges of Kyoto anyway, vainly hoping there'd be something. Sure enough, there wasn't a hotel to be found. The sun had set and I didn't have any ideas except to return to Kawaramachi, find a hotel and come back again for the music.
Instead I dragged my suitcase several blocks to a police station. Policemen in Japan are talking maps as much as anything else and these kind guys were happy to not only suggest a hotel, but also to call and make me a reservation. They warned the clerk that I was a gaijin but apparently that wasn't a deal-breaker and I was allowed to pollute the hotel for one night.
I trudged still further through the dark. My suitcase made a dull grinding sound and fought me with every step. When I found the proper miniscule street, exactly four wrong turns later, I was heartily sick of walking, suitcases on wheels and Kyoto in general. I checked into my hotel and brushed my teeth in my bathroom, a seamless, molded plastic pod, then left again.
Actually Kyoto is a lovely little town, if you like your little towns chock-full of old eateries and strange stores full of arcana: tea sets, kimono cloth, futons and the like. I would have liked to spend more time in Kyoto. The neighborhoods I passed through on my way to the club were heavy with a tranquility that's hard to find in Tokyo. Stores closed early and streets seemed pitch black after Tokyo's barrage of neon and fluorescents. Every restaurant near the club was shuttered and dark except for a mediocre curry place, but I love mediocre Japanese curry. There's nothing better for brisk fall nights than huge plates of cheap, spicy curry.
Zac Baran, the club, was a dark bar with its name branded into unsanded wood walls. I still don't know what “Zac Baran” means. There was an awkward moment at the bar. The bartender indicated a coffee can bearing the words “Charge: ¥1,500”. I had seen this on the sign outside and had the exact amount ready in my pocket. I pulled it out and dropped it in. Too fast. The bartender heard the clank of the ¥500 piece but didn't see the ¥1000 note drop from my hand. He pointed to “1” on the sign. I tried to assure him that I had put it in but he looked skeptical. I had been too quick for him.
If it had been First Avenue he would have just grunted and I would have to pay again, but he was trusting and finally nodded, telling me to take any open chair. Every table was partially occupied so I had to take a seat at a table with a couple already sitting at it. It had been a while since I had been able to listen to some live jazz, and I enjoyed it immensely. But for the first half hour I had difficulty concentrating on the music because I couldn't let go of the fact that the bartender might think I was cheating him.
I know that there will be many times in my life that I look back and say, “if only I was in Kyoto again for a night of curry, jazz and whiskey.” Occasional melancholy, loneliness, hours of aimless wandering—these are things I will remember fondly.
Memory attaches itself to odd things in odd ways. I vividly remember Chicago, where I went last fall with my parents. It was fun but not earth-shattering, just a pleasant way to spend the Thanksgiving weekend. Yet now, though I'm in Tokyo, I keep thinking how nice it would be to be back in Chicago instead. I even remember the drive through dreary Wisconsin fondly. It could be the season. Fall = Chicago. Next year, no doubt, fall will = Tokyo, even though this has been a lousy fall.
Another random thing to remember is when I was sick in Osaka, about this time eight years ago. I had to be driven home from school and Yoshi, my host brother, made me rice with tea and seaweed. Then we rented Princess Mononoke and I stayed up until midnight watching it, wrapped in several blankets. Cozy, cozy, is all I remember. I've forgotten the fever, the faces in the ceiling, the unsteady walk to school where they took one look at me and sent me to the nurse.
It's strange that I get wistful for unhappy times. I guess any strong emotion stands in sharp relief against the flatline of my life. Tonight I paid attention to every detail I could, to give myself plenty of memory to mull over. That's all I can do: stoke that fire with as much fuel as possible, so it will burn longer and hotter.