Did I Mention It Snowed?

The last few times I arrived in Japan, I have felt a thrill at being back in this country. This time it was as the tires touched the tarmac. The earliest yet. I’m not sure what this thrill is about. I suspect it’s a mixture of being in an exotic place, which Japan will always be for me, and, returning to a place that I am so familiar with.

This trip, I arrived at Haneda Airport. It became a domestic only airport when Narita was built but in the last few years has begun taking international flights. I wish all my flights in and out of Tokyo were through Haneda. The immigration seemed to take a little longer but once through the gates, I was only 25 minutes from Ikebukuro Station by Airport Limousine Bus for only 1200 yen. This is so much much much much faster and cheaper than from Narita.

As usual, I dropped off my bigger bag at a delivery service. For less than $20.00 it would be delivered to my doorstep in Chichibu. The man told me that it would arrive in two days because it was going to snow the next day. He did not say that they “expected it to snow”, he said that “it was going to snow”. I liked his certainty in an uncertain world. On the bus going into the city, there was no sign of snow but I trusted him. As things would have it, I arrived too late at night to catch my train out to Chichibu, so, I had arranged to stay at Kimi Ryokan near Ikebukuro Station where I catch the train to Chichibu. It was nice budget accommodation. A 4 ½ mat room. (A tatami mat is approximately 1 x 2 mtres or yards. It was after midnight by the time I checked in, so, no bath only a shower. This was a great disappointment as the O-furo is one of my favourite Japanese experiences. My american made trailer does not have an O-furo. Ah, what so many people are missing.

41:2 Mat

So, as I was saying, the next morning, I was up and on my way to the train station. People had their umbrellas up to ward of the snow flakes but I just went without feeling my mustache freeze in the briskness of the air. The Red Arrow Limited Express to Chichibu. I’ve written of this train before. Reserved seats, coach class style with a conductor who bows and greets everyone when he enters the car. On outskirts of Tokyo, we began passing fields covered in snow and trees with branches with ribbons of white resting on them. I was really enjoying my nice warm seat on the inside of the window. I often read during the first part of the ride and start sightseeing once we start up the valley. This time, I just watched the whole way. Shortly after starting up the valley, we went through a long tunnel. As we came out, I was surprised by a landscape that was pure white. I felt a smile spread at the knowledge that this beauty was waiting for me.

SnowTrailer

So, that’s the snow. That was three weeks ago and it has only snowed once since then. That was a week after my arrival. Instead, it was bitterly cold. Nights got down to minus 8 C, 17 F. I was wearing my down jacket as one of five layers. The heater was getting a good workout. My sleeping bag hood came in handy to act as a warm cave to keep my head from freezing. Some days were better than others. The overcast days brought joy to my heart because it meant it would be warmer. Somehow, I survived.

Yes, friends, I have paid my dues and today, I began collecting them. It has been a warm sunny no wind day. 15 C, 59 F. Oh, the smile on my face as I walked around my neighbourhood. I was in only three layers. I went out shopping on my bike when I didn’t really need to buy anything. I took the long way to the market. An hour later, I just went out and rode around aimlessly until I remembered the antique shop that is way on the other side of town that I don’t usually go to because it’s so far.

Yes, life is beautiful!!!

Morning Salutation

Hi Friends,

Each morning here finds me at some point out in front of the trailer doing my morning workout. I used to do this in the small street that passes by. Residential streets in Japan really are small. In order for two small cars to pass, one has to pull over and come to a complete stop. My little street is used by some people as a short cut and therefore receives more traffic than would be normally generated by the neighbourhood.

The result of the above was that my tai chi and bagua forms would be interrupted at various times by an approaching car. I would notice the impending occurrence and maintaining my state as best I could step to the side of the street. Then, as the cars would pass, I would make a small bow to the drivers. Some would be surprised the first time this happened, however, almost all would bow back. If it was a repeat performance, their bow would be a genuine greeting. This would also occur with people out for a stroll with their dogs or kids going to school.

There is a lot of bowing in Japan. In the supermarket, the cashier will make a formal bow after giving you your change. There is the temptation by foreigners to write off such bows as just form and no substance. What I have found in such situations is that when I return the bow with sincerity, then, the substance of the bow is in existence and we both feel it. A bow can be a very beautiful gesture.

There is a child and mother who wait at the t-junction just close by each weekday morning for a brightly coloured kindergarten school bus. The bus has a woman driving and another woman who attends to the children. The attendant gets off the bus and approaching the mother and child, greets them and escorts the child back onto the bus. As they drive by me the driver gives a little bow and the attendant waves while encouraging the children to wave as well. What a big smile stretches my face as I wave back.

A few weeks ago, I cleared a section of the area that my trailer shares. It’s is full of large gravel set down to hold car parking. I began to practice my forms without the interruptions. It is such a pleasure to be able to move smoothly through my forms. Yet, I do miss the morning ritual of making way. I still get to wave to the kindergarten crew and say hello to the occasional person and dog who pass by. As a part of my exercise, I take a walk up the nearby street past houses where I encounter other walkers and sometimes someone out in his or her garden. I have even had short conversations at times. (Very short due to my limited vocabulary.)

Then, there have been a few mornings when I am walking along and see a person approaching slowly. The person’s head is down, there is a slight hunch of the shoulders and almost a shuffle in the walk. When I get close, I say my ‘good morning’ and suddenly a face pops up surprised and a shining smile appears immediately followed by an enthusiastic ‘good morning’. Yeh, what a good morning.

Ohayo Gozaimusu, Kundan