Japan Diary 1: Shiodome 35th floor

It’s 4:30 in the morning, but my body, thrown halfway round the world and waiting for my soul, refuses to sleep any more. My ultramodern hotel room has a huge picture window (hermetically sealed and too thick to throw myself through no matter how desperate I get for unprocessed air), which gives me a bird’s eye view down and away to an eerie Tokyo cityscape.

Immediately below me is a river (don’t ask, I’m not oriented yet) cross-crossed with a kid’s toy set of inscribed city broadways and delicately supported bridges. They are empty at this hour of a Sunday, but they are all burnished with the greenish white of the new efficient sodium lamps, reflecting in the water and giving the whole lower range of my vision a silvery crispness.

Lift a little and the city undulates away endlessly in red – every building has lots of red warning lights on the roof, and they are in turn reflected in the thousands of glass windows just like mine to form an army of blinking demon eyes marching on my high fastness.

And the purple-black bruised sky above is indeed dotted with the fairies of blinking planes. Been watching too many fantasy movies, I guess – this all smacks of Lord of the Rings, Narnia, and my all time favorite, The Golden Compass. (This was very well-handled in the recent movie version, but read the book, read the book, too!)

I don’t think I have ever kvetched to myself so loudly about a teaching gig as I did this one. To be asked to give a seminar before 300 Japanese PT’s was both an honor and a responsibility. These are well-educated folks, used to the likes of Diane Lee and Paul Hodges, and who am I? So I was studying up, but was set back by the recent added responsibilities at home, and so felt unprepared.

The earthy Kaori meets me at Narita, thoroughly Westernized and full of no-nonsense vitality. We sit at Starbucks until Mark arrives, tall and gangly-onic, brimming with humor and ultra-perceptive as usual, but washed white by his recent agon with conscious separation. When you love and love, but still must part, how it tears the human heart.

At the hotel, we pick up Kana, newly arrived from snowy Hokkaido, and recently from Eugene, where she moved because her mixed-race kids were taking on prejudice – Native American prejudice aimed mistakenly at her half-Japanese, half Caucasian kids – in Helena. Fierce mother inside a gentle soul, I know how every one of Misty’s hurts pierces my heart like a hatpin, so her move from her beloved mountains holds little surprise.

The venue is a short walk away, and our little troupe wends our way up ramps and down covered walkways – even if you know the direction to walk, in this part of town you need to know which level you want to be on, as each walkway is a chutes and ladders game of escalators and stairs leading somewhere else. Miwako and her group have laid it all on – there is a green room with fresh fruit and green tea, with a TV monitor to the stage. I am kitted out with a lapel mike, and set up the Powerpoint that Mark has helped me cobble together at breakfast.

The monitor shows the auditorium filling with milling, burbling people, and I am getting more nervous but marched down the hall we are, and I am first through the door – honored I have been from the moment we crossed the threshold. The sea of faces stretches long before me – the room is deep but not wide – and zoom, with the first sentences I am back in my element – it’s just people, and they all seem so young (how did I get so old?), and I am having fun in the task of bending my knowledge of fascia around for them (and myself) to incorporate the startling work of Dr. Guimberteau.

Kaori translates as she does everything, with her whole body. One finger from her mike-holding hand on her upper lip to keep the proper distance, she renders me in Japanese, and the laugh lines, though delayed from my gestures, come right on cue, so I know I am being translated properly, always a relief. Poor Mark and Kana, come to assist, have little to do in this lecture course except help with logistics and give me feedback, but we will put them to work in the hands-on portion.

At lunch, we trek down from the venue into the Tsujiki fish market, the mother of all sushi. In the market, they are sweeping up – you have to be down there in this bruised blackness of the early morning to see the fish and auctions, but we are ducking down the small streets that smell of diesel and cigarettes and fish, checking out tiny stall restaurants in search of food, and mmm-mmm we get it – creamy toro and delicate shrimp, fresh water eel (anago) braized with flan torch, and uni which – dare I say it? – is not as good as our own Maine right-out-of-the-water stuff. The sushi chef – working at top speed to feed the 8 of us in time – danced a little dance, rocking and swaying and murmuring to himself as he slapped the fish and rice together. Someone asked him – it’s not a ritual, it’s just how he keeps himself from getting stiff in the long hours of standing on the stone floors.

One aficionado note: the calibrate the amount of wasabi they put on the fish based on its freshness – the fresher, the less – so you get soy sauce and gari ginger, but no wasabi.

And just one other image: a sea of backs. I had all 300 take a partner, and putting their hands on each other’s shoulders, bend at the hips to stretch the back line. There was barely room for 300 people sitting, so this arrangement of people presents an undulating sea of backs so crowded that we could easily have walked across them from the stage to the projection room.

I was prepared for the stony faces I have encountered in other Asian venues but this group is participatory, asking questions and taking to the exercises like any American or European audience. Quan is always poo-pooing my worry in advance of these challenges, and of course she’s forever right – it always works out. But, my New England mind persists, would it have worked out as well, would I have been as sharp if I hadn’t honed my edge with worry?


One Response to “Japan Diary 1: Shiodome 35th floor”

  1. Carrie Gaynor Says:

    Hi Tom –
    Welcome home. sounds amazing and we look forward to seeing you on Sat. evening.

    Are you discreetly letting us know that Mark and Deb broke up?

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