mjj (flemmings) wrote,

Not quite nostalgia

Shall mention that on this day in 1990, also a Sunday, I landed in Tokyo with the intention of staying at least half a year: not knowing that in the four months between my doing my research on visas and such in May and my arrival in September the Japanese government had changed its regulations. I found out when I trotted up to Sendai in December to renew my tourist visa and found out I couldn't, and had three days to make alternative arrangements.

Lafcadio Hearn said to write down your impressions of your first day in Japan because you'll forget them after. Ha.

In those days you couldn't take the Skyliner from Narita. You had to take a bus three minutes to the Keiei station. I got on the bus and five minutes later was back at the terminal. I believe it was a shuttle of some description. I got the right bus, got to the station, looked at the ticket machines, bought me a ticket to Tokyo-Ueno, and boarded the train. It wasn't, I learned later, the Skyliner: it was the bloody kaku-eki (every station) slow train, and it took ninety minutes to get to Ueno, and I stood for every one of them.

The rest of that day is a merciful blank. Next day of course I got up and went out to stock up on necessities, to discover the city shut up and empty. Back then when the Sept 23 national holiday, autumn setsubun, fell on a Sunday, they moved it to Monday. No one tells you these things. Now of course most national holidays are celebrated on the nearest Monday, the Japanese having evidently become addicted to long weekends. But that day I felt like I'd walked into a not entirely pleasant dream: Tokyo devoid of people.

Equally a hundred years earlier Lafcadio Hearn came to Japan, and when I arrived his centenary was in full swing. (I fancy he arrived much earlier than in September: you have to be mad to do ocean voyages in the fall. We did, when I was five, coming back from France just about this time. I clearly remember our chief delight, me and my older brother, was to put our terrycloth bathrobes on the floor, sit down on them, and slide to the other end of the cabin.) Hearn fell in love with Japan, as people will, and thought Japan had fallen in love with him (an exclusively male error, IME); and found out differently, also as people will, and went to his grave, as Springsteen said, a broken heart. Of course Japan did fall in love with him, but not immediately and completely, which is how we like our love to be requited. Small comfort to him that 85 years after his death the government would issue a stamp in his honour; but that's pretty much how long it takes. And I suppose it was small comfort as well that his students at Tokyo Imperial University were so pissed at his dismissal that they made the life of his successor, Natsume Soseki, an utter misery.

For my own reference- American Modernist Writers and the Orient. I could wish there'd been more information in that article, but Berkeley being Berkeley, Berkeley tells you all you need to know
Tags: japan, reading, verse

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