after spending many long weeks in tokyo avoiding my peers and the crowds, i set out one afternoon to get to know the neighborhood i had so carefully refrained from acquainting myself with. for those with lovesickness, there is no room in their life for anything but the exact science of nursing that pain and the avoiding of meals and friends. i wasn't interested in escaping self-pity—it was familiar and consistent at a time when i was anything but.
though there were several routes from the akasaka international weekly mansion to the school, i always took the first one i had been shown, and the several streets just blocks from my home remained almost entirely unexplored since my first day, when i visited a starbucks for the sake of familiarity with another student who'd also arrived early in tokyo. it was pouring rain, but it was warm and we both subscribed to obliviousness with regard to the weather. i bought a coffee for social purposes.
by the time the weather had turned colder, i had gotten used to walking down to the konbini or the vending machines to get some crackers or a dr pepper, which had inexplicably become my drink of choice for the exact duration of my stay. the weather was unpleasant by the general public reckoning—misty, grey and cold—but i always have found a certain comfort in foggy days when the clouds are low. the world shrinks to your immediate surroundings, and the sky doesn't seem quite so vast and distant. sounds don't travel as far, and the silence seems more to surround you than it does leave you exposed—everything is close at hand and concerns can only come from so far away.
on my way home from the sake vendor, i passed a darkened bar, with a facade that couldn't measure more than 5 or 6 feet across, including the door. there were 5 stools lining the hammered copper bar top, and barely enough room to walk around in, but i decided to come back that night. if nothing else, it was extremely close to home, and that can be quite the important factor in finding a haunt to imbibe at.
mitsui was the name of the bar and the owner/bartender/resident. his face was creased like wrinkled newspaper, but it was clear that these were marks of smiling and laughter, and not time's cruelty. i'm sure he must've been close to 60 or so, but for his exuberance and warmth, he was younger than most people ever get to be. he had somewhat of a feminine quality that i could never quite pinpoint... it may have been the way he held his cigarettes, or his cadence of speech, which was kind and articulate (an unusual combination for an older japanese man), or the fact that he reminded me of a character from 'tokyo godfathers' who is a slender, older man who moonlights as a crossdresser... but it complimented him and the style of his bar.
i can't separate the times i spent there anymore, because every night we spent there we always felt the same—taken care of. mitsui was an instant friend and someone who, through whatever means, will always be tied to a very specific emotional chord for me.
mitsui's place was right down the street from the american embassy, and as such, he would occasionally ask us about words or phrases we used that he didn't understand. between 3 or 4 americans, these explanations grew inevitably longer and more convoluted as he poured us sake or shochu or beer, and inevitably shorter when he would, completely unsolicited, cook us something and insist we eat. "mitsui special", he'd say, and wouldn't let us pay for it, and rarely would let us pay for all of our drinks. one night, when we walked in, he poured us sake flecked with gold leaf he had received as a gift from some folks at the embassy, and we joined in conversation with whoever was taking up the other of the 5 seats. i met a dance teacher with long hair and a penchant for spandex, a tv producer, a warm couple enthusiastic to talk about how tall we were, and all of them were just as open and warm and kind as we were wont to be when we came through the door.
there is something quite elegant and immediate about talking with someone over a language barrier that, whether truly or not, gives the sensation that you're cutting through to exactly who this person is. someone who will sound like a child willingly and make mistakes willingly and laugh at themselves willingly had already proved a genuineness that can take years to garner from people you can speak with in well-composed, articulate sentences. i sometimes feel that i will be hard-pressed to find a man as generous and heartfelt as mitsui. i can easily blame this on a lack of understanding, or diminishing sobriety as our hours together grew long. i sometimes find myself thinking about people like mitsui i have come to know—people that have impressed me with their warmth and humanity—and i wonder about their darkness. undoubtedly mitsui has hurt and been hurt in his years on the earth... maybe he had a son who died and he bought the bar to escape this hurt... maybe he really was a crossdresser escort, and this bar had been bought for him by a patron...
but i can not wonder if he really meant to befriend a group of tall foreigners who broke his ceiling lights by walking into them—he was certain that it was the right thing to do. and when the time came for me to leave japan, saying goodbye to him was the moment i realized that in spite of my best efforts to keep my heart away from tokyo, i was leaving home.
happy new year to all. i'm moving to new york in a week. see ya there.