Imperial Gardens

When the light creeps in at 5:30, I must walk.

I am in the Kojimachi district – seems like it must be close to downtown, as the government buildings and some central museums are nearby.  This early, it is relatively quiet on the streets as I head for the Imperial Palace.  It is closed, so I circumnavigate it, around the huge moat. (How many Nipponese dug and carried to protect this emperor in this life? Can”t have been done by the Chinese terra cotta guys.)

I duck out of the traffic into the National Garden. The cherry blossoms are just finishing, and I walk on a pathway of petals.  Beside a pond with carp lazily swimming is a stand of trees – perfect for doing Tai Chi.  I am deep into the exercises in the morning cold, remebering the classes in the early morning LA cold in 1973 with the Taiwanese master Benjamin Liu. “You no have idea” he kept saying to me, until one day, fed up and ready to abandon the project of learning Tai Chi, I went through the motions with a ‘don’t care’ attitude.  “Ah, now you have idea,” said Benjamin, who than taught me the next move, and I continued on with him as long as I was in LA.

Lest you think I was getting too spiritual, I had a playlist on my nano going that bounced from Alicia Keys to Bonnie Raitt and back again. But came a noise that penetrated through the earphones and I looked about to see that I was not the only one.  A fellow had set up a boombox behind me, and probably a hundred people had gathered to do their morning exercises to the guided musical tape he had on.  Jumping jacks, hopping, simple stretches – the funny thing was how spread out people were.  Each person – mostly older, but man and women both – had found his own space, m ostly far from each other, so that the whole group took up an acre or so (hence the decibel level).  It was clearly a community event, but each member of the community in his own world.

On the way back to the hotel, I see a street person – the only one I have seen alol morning, clearly rousted by the police – dirty overcoat, limping wide-kneed gait, swarthy face under a knit cap.  I look directly into his eyes and hold them.  His returning stare unmistakably communicates his shame in showing the underside of Japan to a foreigner.  Absolutely no Ratso Rizzo “I’m walkin’ here” in him.

At the Starbucks, a lovely girl in an exquisite silk kimono eating her danish with a fork.

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