>Found some old writing from when I lived in Japan. What a trip down memory lane.
February 9th, 2002 O S A K A , J A P A N
It’s 7.34pm on Saturday. I have been sitting and staring out of the window for a good 45 minutes, at least, intermittently remembering my tall French Vanilla coffee.
At the window seat I sit, every Saturday night, watching, spying, analysing the people at the tables outside. It is comfortable here and from comfort spills routine, so I am ashamed to admit to my Saturday night routine is a well established addiction to Starbucks coffee.
It goes like this, I finish my last class at 5.40, then there is the obligatory 20 minutes of stuffing around, cleaning up, useless banter until finally after a couple choruses of “chotto motto, ne?” I finally find myself on the way to the ‘vendo’ for a drink.
A Chu-Hi with the boys takes the edge off my day…they joke (often not joke) about what students they are seeing, people they hate and weekend getaways. The last one always catches me off guard-the conversation moves swiftly from “she’s an ugly dog” to “this beautiful little guesthouse in the outskirts of Nara where you can sit under the sakura and drink tea…”.
‘Land of Contradictions’ someone once said to me when I first made tentative plans to move here.
After that, I retreat to Crappybucks to unwind in peace from a long day of what often feels like fingernails on a blackboard.
In Starbucks I immediately assume the position- headphones on, music as loud as possible, a tall coffee and a big book I have been attempting to read for the last 6 weeks. My intention is always to read, but I constantly find myself distracted by the flurry of activity that is Tennoji.
Directly outside where I am sitting is a man reading. He is drinking a big coffee and smoking Marlboro reds. He is so consumed with his book that he keeps forgetting about his cigarettes. Of the four cigarettes I have seen him miraculously get out of the soft-pack and light using one hand without looking up from his book, he has maybe smoked about one. He prefers to let them dangle from his fingertips, thin ribbons of smoke drifting up into his wild shoulder length hair. I want to know what he is reading.
The table next to him has changed three times since I arrived. First it was two elderly women with a mountain of shopping bags at their feet talking with such animation that I got the feeling that they were dear old friends who 20 years ago were doing the exact same thing. After they left a depressed looking teenager sat down and hid behind her black hair, eyes to the ground. She waited for ten minutes with such melancholy that I was almost going to go out and sit with her, but in the flash of a phone message she was up with a small smile marching determinedly toward the K’ntetsu station. Now a young couple are sitting, drinking coffee, smoking cigarettes and having a fierce conversation. Every now and then they throw their heads back with laughter.
A largish group of people have congregated in he courtyard across from me, they are enjoying what seems to be yet another J-Pop girl-band dressed in identical outfits, all sparkling and blonde, singing their little hearts out. For a few perverse seconds it seems they are dancing in unison to my St. Germain CD. I laugh out loud.
I can hear nothing except my music and could probably be in any part of the world for all I would know. In the dimming dusk light no one looks particularly Japanese. Then again, it is a rare sight to see a person with black hair. The latest fashions command blonde, orange or light brown hair- the young and old of Japan are jumping to it’s demanding whip.
They are ridiculously hip. I have never seen so many well dressed people in my whole life. But along with the hair, Japanese fashion is taking a turn for the ugly. In shop windows (and on the street) I have seen mannequins looking much like Madonna in ‘Desperately Seeking Susan’. Horizontal stripes, lace and fish-nets altogether teetering on the pointiest stilettos you will ever see. To my relief I find that Japanese fashion has departments- there is 80’s Madonna, 90’s dirty denim with cool coats and scarves as well as the suit crew. There seems to be no logic to the assigning of said fashions. No age goes with a particular style. I see 30-40 y.o. with their children wearing dirty denim and hoodies with spikey orange hair. On the same street I can see 20-somethings in well tailored suits sitting with their 80’s Madonna girlfriends
It is all about the contrast.
High jagged mountains dipping down into gentle curving valleys sheltering blossom laden villages or be it monstrous concrete examples of modern architecture casting shadows over ancient shrines with 200 y.o. willows growing through every space, breaking out of the confines of the small compound’s protection.
It is all Japan. Inside and out, top to bottom- from double-shot mocha frappacino through to tea ceremony style matcha.