Monday, January 9, 2012

Nezumi in the City

City living in Japan offers visual splendors galore from views of the Tokyo Sky Tree, the "tallest artificial structure in Japan," to hundreds of museums, gardens, tea houses, shrines, temples, as well as shopping in Ginza, Kappabashi, and Akihabara, and people watching (read girls in crinoline skirts wearning a lot of pink) in Harajuku. One can be entertained at every turn. Tokyo is clean, safe, and it is easy to get around with trains, subways, and taxis. There are many signs and announcements (mainly on trains) in English. There is an underlying politeness in Japan so even as people are rushing to and fro, they will slow down if you catch their attention. It is a polite culture and it has fabulous food- more Michelin Stars than any other country. If you don't like Tokyo, you don't like cities.

An orange clay road ran in front of my house in early childhood. A water hose in the yard was used for the preentry wash. There was a time when a cow lived behind our house which was surrounded by fields and woods. My family doesn't live there anymore and neither do the cows. An elementary school and a housing development replaced them. You can walk to shopping strip malls with large grocery chains, home building places, banks, and a movie theater from there now. Still, it is not exactly a city with a vibrant art scene, but it should qualify as suburbia by now.

I was ripped out of my southern tendrils at thirteen and replanted into southern Spain. I didn't exactly take root in Spain, but it was a world away from the sleepy town I had been. There were many firsts in Spain particularly gastronomic from octopus salad, cafe con leche, churros, pollos ajillos, to gaspacho. There was also beauty and strolls in town squares spitting pippas, trips to museums, cathedrals, and that whole other culture thing where you marvel that there is such thing as cultural meanings that do and don't translate. I didn't feel like a country bumpkin anymore.

From Spain we returned to tobacco fields in a rural area outside of Washington, D.C. How I longed to live in a real city like D.C. Within ten years of that longing, I did live in D.C. My husband and I owned a house, had plants stolen from the garden on mother's day, had scrawny kids at the door on Halloween with no costumes and no bags, saying, "trick or treat," and saw a lot of homeless folks who needed more help than a meal and a warm bed though they needed that too.

City life was about work, parking, and the commute time whether to get to the store, the preschool, or the office. We went places too- the opera, the symphony, concerts, and plays. My husband would tally up the cost of tickets, parking, dinner, and later the babysitter and sigh,  dubbing these events our "expensive naps." We would fall asleep so often that we wondered why we bothered  in the face of our exhaustion. On long weekends we drove to his hometown to get away. We could walk up town, we were never hustled, and we had space to breath. It was beginning to occur to us that we might not be city folk.

Then the Navy sent us to Japan where we have settled into a relatively small city, Kamakura. You can walk up town, ride your bike to the beach, and eat at a lot of restaurants (ten of which got a Michelin Star in 2011). However, there are an awful lot of people here. I've been taken out by old women on shopping missions- clean whacked off my feet, by an eighty pound seventy year old woman! The sidewalk contains pedestrians, bikes, strollers, canes, and walkers. Tourist implode the town on the weekends and holidays making it difficult to get a table at any restaurant. For a long time I thought it was that I didn't like crowds.

I'm not exactly seeking to milk my own goats or build a mud hut adobe, but I need space, quiet, and a whole lot less going on around me. It has come to me that I am nezumi or mouse that prefers sanity to scurry.