I sat perched at the mezzanine-level bar in Starbucks which overlooked Omiya Station’s main concourse, nursing a coffee. Last night Fred had asked, “Do you want to try some sake?” and when I had nodded he was clearly delighted to have a drinking companion. My sister-in-law and her mother cannot drink alcohol—it causes an allergic reaction.
I had already ordered a beer. I know I probably sound like an alcoholic. I have come home from some trips undecided where I should check myself in first—to Hazelden or a fat farm. But really, drinks are just props to my writing, like in the movies where people are constantly walking to the drinks cart, pouring drinks, and using the drinks in their hands as part of their stage gestures.
I have so many addicts in my family that I’ve always closely monitored myself for signs I am crossing over from social to compulsive drinker.
Fred and I split four glasses of a sake flight. Each selection was from a different region. The first one was amazing—fruity but, because sake, not sweet. The others were okay and it was fun to taste the differences.
Charlie had been playing Pokémon Go on Fred’s phone from the moment we met at the station. His parents impose an almost-total ban on screens, including TV, movies, video games, and internet. This has caused a boomerang effect where he has become obsessed with all things electronic. I was kind of grateful that I could tell him, in honesty, that my phone was on the wane so he couldn’t use it to watch YouTube videos or play games.
Occasionally Fred or Hiromi would ask Charlie a question and I loved that he responded unselfconsciously in Japanese. He had been working hard in Japanese school, in Minnesota, and here, in immersion. He deserved some mindless Pokémon Go off leash time.
Fred and Hiromi and I talked about language learning. Charlie would start French classes once school resumed, on top of Japanese school on Saturdays, and he would be switching from piano lessons to cello. Part of me wished I had had these opportunities and part was relieved that my mother’s approach to parenting had been totally laissez faire. We ran wild, with no geographic boundaries or curfews. I wonder if this is why three out of the four of us are creative types.
I gave Hiromi the tofu souvenir from Koyasan and she seemed to like it. I asked Fred if he liked tofu. He nodded and gave me a short talk on all things tofu, which varies by region. Maybe this is why Japanese people don’t get sick of tofu—it comes in so many different textures and is used in so many different ways.
That night I sat on the side of my bed trying to make sense of the next day’s itinerary. I was so utterly exhausted from the days’ travels. I started to cry because I couldn’t understand something about getting from Point B to Point C. I set the itinerary aside and fell back on the bed. Hopefully it would all be clear tomorrow, as it unfolded.
I finished the horrifying novel about WWII and fell asleep for about an hour, until my Restless Legs jerked me awake. I got out of bed, ran in place for 10 minutes, then fell back to sleep. That repeated six or seven times until my alarm went off. In other words, a normal night.
So here I was at Starbucks watching bursts of humans emerge, converge, and then stream off to their respective exits as trains came and went.
Fully 90% of them wore black pants and white tops. You could say this was Japanese conformity, but in London two years ago I had observed a similar “uniform” of blue suits with white shirts. I spotted two American flag shirts. Out of the thousands of travelers, there were about five black people, two Indians, a half dozen middle easterners, and two women wearing headscarves. Zero anyone who appeared Latino. There were three disabled people in wheelchairs.
And two elders. I jumped up and ran down to meet Fred, Hiromi, and Charlie.