Quoth the raven

No rooster to wake me here; instead the squawk of the large ravens of Tokyo. Bigger than our crows, their call is startlingly loud, and sounds almost electronic – as so many of the other sounds here actually are.

The observation has been made before, but the only word that adequately describes this culture is ‘spare’. Everything is very clean – despite the ubiquitous smoking, the butts are all gone on my morning walk. I encountered the same street person again this morning as he bent over to pick up a long one – a find. Everywhere – in the stores, the hotel, the classroom – are different containers for recycling everything. The buildings are super clean, inside and out, the architecture superbly functional without being crass, though it feels unadorned to my European eye.

But behind my hotel, which looks like a bank from the front, I found a little water-rock garden, not featured, but tucked away where a man might get a moment’s peace.

Every object is made as simply as possible – the park bench is a log with a twisted seat-belt strap over either end, tied to a ring set into the ground.

A place where soil is washing down is solved by one cleverly placed short berrier; in the States, there would have been a huge costly wall, surrounded by black plastic.

One is unmistakably in the presence of a developed culture, as one feels in Indonesia, amongst Tibetans, in France or Germany, but not, alas, in America.  It need give nothing away, and can absorb everything.
I have found my morning walk for the rest of my time here – a ‘highway’ for pedestrians, far above the railroad bed, maybe some old imperial wall – which winds through the city, lined with cherry trees. Which brings me to the other oft-remarked aspect of Japan – reverence for nature. Hard to imagine among these hectares of solid cement, but the example is so touching: Where the branches of some old cherry block the path below head level, the branch is allowed to stay, and simply wound with a yellow and black tape to warn walkers. Put that scene in the States, and hear the lawyers squawking like the crows, and enter the chain saws, stage left.

The ikebana – flower-arranging – is also always in evidence in both the tiny little oasis parks and inside as flowers; each arrangement making best use of the color, light, shape, texture. One accustoms one’s self to it quite quickly. In the lobby, I saw an arrangement that was out of place, and had the temerity to correct it. I looked around guiltily, but the girl behind the front desk lifted her eyebrows in appreciation. She made a comment, but whether it was “Go to a class, idiot” or “I was thinking of that, too”, I don’t know.

I am trying to learn my few phrases, but it’s slow. Last night I ate my fill of sushi, standing at the bar with the other home-going businessmen. Universal in their dark suits, they stop by the fast-food sushi (in that one stands, and only beer and tea are served). A large bamboo leaf is laid before you – you put your own gari on it, and you are served green tea – given and received with two hands – and then you just keep putting in your orders, which are made immediately and arrive in seconds, hand delivered to your bamboo leaf, checked off on a slip on top of the bar. There are four kinds of toro, three kinds of scallops, five types of shrimp, bonito the color of Chinese silk, as well as some squiggly bits that I forego. I get by with pointing, and making Japanese-sounding syllables under my breath when served. No one seems to mind. The businessmen eat quickly (and probably more temperately) than I, coming and going around me as I say to myself “Well, I’ll just try that one, then I’ll go”. The total bill was $15.

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