In Japan. At the Edo Museum, I perused an exhibit about women’s lives throughout history. One plaque explained how women were encouraged to pursue hobbies like calligraphy, flower arranging, and incense contemplation.
I joined Lynn, who was sitting on a bench contemplating an abstract rendition of an earthquake or some such natural disaster that had occasionally befallen Tokyo.
“Did you know there’s a hobby called incense contemplation?” I asked.
“How exciting! I must buy some incense to bring home and contemplate.”
We bought some tchotchkes in the gift shop—my pile included gum in the form of a geisha, geisha-shaped chocolates, and a box of grey candy the consistency of pencil erasers. This was for Vince, who had requested “something disgusting” he could share with his coworkers in the kitchen at the country club. It was going to be hard to beat the Crispy Big-Bottomed Ants I had brought from Colombia.
All the guides recommended visiting the Yanaka neighborhood of old wooden houses. “It’s just one more stop on the train, and it looked like we walk in either direction from the station and we hit Yanaka,” I said to Lynn.
“Right,” she replied drily.
We walked east from the station, following a sign pointing to “The FAMOUS Fabric Area.” It was indeed an area of fabric shops.
“I can’t see why it’s famous,” I remarked. “It’s not like they’re selling silks and satins or kimono fabrics.”
“No,” Lynn agreed. “I could find these in Aberdeen.”
We walked back toward the station. It was past lunch time and after dithering in front of a couple restaurants with curtains that obscured what was inside, we plunged into a Korean place. There was no English on the menu and the server didn’t speak any English but thankfully there were photos. We ordered what we assumed were pizzas, and the server looked puzzled and tried to explain something to us, pointing to the menus and flipping through rapidly through the pages.
Were the items we’d requested not served at lunchtime? Was he trying to upsell us? To dissuade us from ordering something that wasn’t good?
He flipped back to the page with the pizzas and pointed. We nodded our heads and he smiled and disappeared. There was a barbecue grill set in each table and the people around us were all grilling delicious-smelling meats.
“What do you suppose we’ll get?” Lynn asked.
“Whatever it is, we’ll eat it and smile!”
“Or I’ll slip it into my handbag, and we’ll bung it in the first bin,” Lynn offered. Lynn carries a legendary, enormous handbag into/from which many things disappear and appear.
The server returned with something like a cross between pizzas and omelets; Lynn wasn’t keen so I ate mine and half of hers.
“We will never know why that was such a difficult order for him to contemplate,” Lynn remarked.
We walked west of the station and wound up in a massive cemetery. This is what a Japanese cemetery looks like:
Everyone is cremated, and their ashes are interred at a gravesite. There is an altar where family and friends can leave coins, pray, and … contemplate incense. Like western cemeteries, Japanese ones have family members buried in a shared plot.
“I wonder what the wooden sticks are?” Lynn said.
“I know, I’ve seen those before. Are they supplications?”
“Or the names of individual family members?”
“This one looks very Darth Vaderish,” I said.
“Scary!” pronounced Lynn.
We walked forever; the cemetery was like a corn maze only with dead people.
There was a guy sitting on a wall; sunburned and disheveled and possibly inebriated He was a retired Kiwi who had been traveling around Japan for several months with no definite return date.
“You’re missing a shoe,” I pointed out.
“Aww, I know,” he replied, unconcerned. “It’s here somewhere.”
He gave us very dubious directions to the neighborhood of wooden houses but we never found it. We did find a narrow lane with tiny shops where I bought chopsticks for Vince and his family. Then we got some iced green tea and sat in the sun, people watching and catching up for another hour, then caught the train back to Ueno.