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juichigatsu 20 (nov)
Last week, the electricity went out for about a half hour in a wide area of western Tokyo prefecture. When I took the trains home from school, the monitors announcing the train schedules were all off kilter, as were the trains themselves. At Chofu, where I board the train coming from the city, the third train connection of my daily journey, the platform was packed with mildly disgruntled passengers. When the train arrived and emptied a stream of travelers, I got on and made my way down the side aisle where usually there's a little more breathing space. People pushed in waves, 'salarymen' and 'office ladies', shoppers and students - each time I thought there couldn't possibly be room for any more people, I was smashed against a business-suited shoulder, my cloth Land's End briefcase pulled in an another direction, cutting my arm with the straining strap. Finally the train lurched forward and started chugging along. As was the case with most of the passengers, I was far from a steadying handhold. With every curve and change in velocity, the crush of people swayed back and forth, like the tendrils of an anemone waving in the sea current, someone occasionally losing their footing and leaning into you more than propriety allowed, but it was impossible to fall down, pinned between bodies. At the Fuchu stop, people burst from the train like an explosion; it was an effort to turn around in the right direction before being swept out the door, careful to check for the gap when you step out. Just the week before, in an instant, I was shoved and lost an umbrella down that gap, never to be seen again.

On frequent weekend outings, I've visited a few more neighborhoods in Tokyo. On a Saturday at lunchtime, around the Tsukiji fish market, open only in the early morning hours for the famous auction, the street market was vibrant, throbbing with life and the competing aromas of seafood beckoned. Fresh sushi, clam and oyster yakitori (a small shishkabob), dried squid, octopus balls, and a quiche-like egg dish with seafood bits in it, on a stick. A festival was in progress where the narrow market streets ended, with two big round blue pools surrounded by people fishing, any conversations drowned out by a woman on a loudspeaker encouraging them on. A boy, with help from his grandfather, caught a huge one and the crowd cheered as they pulled it from the water.

Akihabara, the neon electronic mecca of Tokyo, is crammed with multi-story supermarket sized and tiny street stand sized electronics shops, bustling with young people all in search of some shiny new prize to take home. Walking down Electric Avenue, geek heaven, there are countless stores with cds and dvds, music players and makers, computers and tv/web/movie-enabled cell phones (ubiquitous machines in Japan long before iPhone arrived), and action figures of every conceivable Japanese anime, comic and film character. And on street corners, real live characters dressed as maids, as this is also the location of the kinky 'maid cafes,' or boys with gunked up hair sticking out in crazy directions, passed out coupons, ads and pocket-sized packs of tissues with advertising included. I was lucky to get out of there without buying anything, amazing since I already was toting a bag full of (mostly edible) goodies from the fish market.

A friend of a friend held a pottery exhibition of his work in a temple in Tokyo. I took the train to Ichigaya station and climbed the steep stairs up to the temple. In the temple garden, a class was taking place - the teacher pulled a sword slowly and dramatically from its hilt, his body moving in a silent dance like a tai chi movement, then was echoed haltingly by two young students. The potter greeted me in his navy blue robes as soon as I entered. He and his wife were gentle people, so appreciative of my visit; I liked them as much as I did his pottery. She brought green tea in some of his cups, and invited me to sit and visit. They were patient and tried as hard as I did to speak in Japanese with me, speaking simply and earnestly. I fell in love with one pot right away and ended up with two. When I left, I told them that I have bought a few pots in Japan, but it means so much more when you meet the potter and he is a friend. They were touched and bowed low, as I did, then, as they watched, I struggled to put on my sneakers (having forgotten to wear shoes that were easier to slip off), wishing I could be as graceful as the samurai wannabes in the courtyard, and we exchanged small bows as I went out the door.

Good friends came to visit this month, an unusual treat: I spent a fun day running around the city with a Colorado couple, despite the windy rain of a typhoon! Emerging from the Edo Tokyo museum, the rain was blowing sideways; we held our umbrellas like shields. And another dear friend, the former director of my school in Guatemala, wandered the old winding streets of the Yanaka neighborhood with me one afternoon.


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