you tell a story like tokyo rose

That goddamn song has been in my head for several days now. I can’t even remember who sings it, and if you’re, ahem, below a certain age (you don’t remember a time before MTV) you probably don’t know what I’m talking about. That song was on one of the first compilation records — and I do mean those big strange vinyl things that went round and round — I ever bought when I was a little kid. With my saved-up allowance money. I used to dance around my living room to it. I was a big living-room dancer in those days.

I am currently in Japan. We were in Tokyo for a couple of days — stayed at the Park Hyatt which will now forever be known as “that Lost in Translation hotel”, at least by me — which I loved beyond all shame and reason. I lived in Japan for a year after graduating university — I taught ESL, living in the Nara/Kyoto/Osaka region and picking up minimal Japanese, which is shockingly easy to do — but never made it as far north as Tokyo (it was cheaper to go spend my vacation days in Thailand, or Bali, which I did instead), although I’d always wanted to visit the place.

Really loved it. We hired a guide, a good-natured woman named Junko who had a relaxed, humorous way about her. She took us to the Tokyo fish market — which I found unexpectedly fascinating — as well as the Imperial Palace, Electric City as well as Ginza and Rippongi Hills. Drizzling, dismal weather but who cares. We were in Tokyo.

Now in Fukuoka — a smaller city in the southern part of Japan — as my husband E attends the International Space Conference. I spent the morning wandering around dreamily, ducking down what seemed a cute and charming alley that turned out to be lined with sex clubs, young Japanese men standing at the doors trying to entice customers out of the warming, bright-lit morning. Our hotel turns out to be attached to this shopping complex called Canal City which is all decked out for Halloween. I had a dim sum lunch in a Chinese restaurant overlooking all the little plastic pumpkins bobbing in the shallow pool in the courtyard below, while people crouched on the pool’s edge, writing on their pumpkins in black marker, then releasing the things into the water. Nearby — not far from the Starbuck’s, where a large drip coffee will set you back about four bucks — is a shrine with a plastic howling dragon and a sake drum.

There’s a lot of English spoken in Tokyo; not so much in Fukuoka. At the Cantonese restaurant I could not communicate with the waiters or read the menu except for the words ‘dim sum lunch’, printed in English, which is what lured me inside in the first place (I was craving shumai — these Japanese pork dumplings — and dim sum seemed close enough). So I ate the lovely things in the little bamboo baskets as they came out one by one from the kitchen and looked out the window and read my Matisse biography and trusted that at some point the food would stop coming and they would let me know, with that immaculate Japanese politeness, that it was time to get the hell out.

I drank beer — for some reason beer never tastes as good to me anywhere else as it does in Japan, or at least in Japanese restaurants — and now I am tipsy and sleepy. I plan to take a good long soak in the Japanese tub, which –to a bath-lover such as myself — is one of the most wondrous inventions ever.

I miss the hell out of the twins, of course — they are currently at home with my mother, whom we imported from Canada specifically for this, and Dinora — and so don’t mind that our stay here is as short as it is. Tomorrow I fly to New York to visit my mother-in-law and attend the BLOODANGEL book party thrown by BlackBook magazine. And then home.


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