08:49 am, 12 degrees and a there’s a drizzle of rain but i’ve been sat here at this cafe window for 30 minutes and only spotted one person without an umbrella – a foreigner, hair tied back and briskly galloping down the high street. The Japanese nation have embraced the umbrella. No one is too cool for one, everyone has one to hand it seems (I’ve had a few over the years but always seem to lose them) and every shop is set up with umbrella paraphernalia to support this practice. At the moment I’ve got a Wolves one, which I proudly exhibit when it’s completely tipping it down, but I couldn’t be bothered to dig it out this morning as I prepared to leave the apartment and just put my hood up instead.
Oh look, what’s this…there’s another one; a brave and bald middle aged western gent holding his phone to his face and marching down the high street. I guess he’s live streaming his morning walk “Look at me, ain’t nothing but a trickle! I’ll face the rain!”
A young boy of maybe 4 years slips on the wet steps outside of the cafe window, his face turns towards me as he falls. He looks surprised, but thankfully not hurt. His young mother lurches to the floor to catch him and I’m moved by her instinctive and emotional reaction. He’s wearing an over sized poncho whilst carrying an umbrella and I guess such marginal differences can tip the balance of a youngster. Maybe it comes back to trust, and lack of crime that people seem happy to leave their umbrellas unattended.
Did I mention I might have joined a new band? For several years I’ve been fascinated by this group of people that congregate at dawn and sing to the rising sun at Tokyo Bay. Upon returning to Japan last week I was pleased to discover they are still here, and active in their practice. I sometimes sit and observe them, soaking up the positive energy as they slowly move through the tones of the Insen scale at dawn. Two days ago they turned to me and invited me to join in, then earlier this morning this happened again, but this time I was treated to a solo performance of a traditional Japanese poem from their leader too. I wish I could’ve recorded it for you, but it was such an intimate, personal exchange I really didn’t want to spook him with my phone. As I walked away from the Bay and back to the apartment I felt moved to tears at the kindness and warmth they had shown me. “Sing with us – it’s good for your health” the leader said, as the group laughed and smiled, welcoming me in.
Yesterday afternoon I was down at the bay at Hammerhead Pier, drinking coffee with my headphones on. A young woman approached the coffee counter armed with two iPhones. One is on a footlong selfie stick and there’s a cable hanging from the talking head that leads back to the Gucci bag at her waist, the other iphone she’s waving in the air and signalling to the barista she wants to use it to pay for her coffee. The selfie stick one has 1, maybe 2 talking heads on the glass screen and she is communicating with them, through her face mask. Simultaneously, she establishes contact with the Starbucks member of staff, deftly places her order and offers a polite bow of the head. I have removed my headphones now just in case I was missing anything, and feel compelled to stand and applaud her performance!
A young couple with a baby arrives at the table next to me and before the family sits down the man cleans the table thoroughly. He has brought his own wipes. I’m not surprised to see this but feel it’s worth noting. Cleanliness is sewn-in here. In cafes you clear and wipe your own tables, office workers congregate in groups of 3 with plastic gloves and inspector gadget plastic extended arms to pick fag-ends from the gutter outside their office blocks. Children and teachers clean their school buildings and help prepare their lunch. Kirei translates as both clean and beautiful.
“I’m going to the park today” Taiga declared when he got back from school at around 3: 45pm.
“Cool. I hope you go and play and have a great time today, because it might rain tomorrow and life is short”
“What? No it’s not – my Great Grandma is 104”
Brilliant. What can I say? Wish you’d all been here to hear it. I stand in silence as I search for a suitable response:
“Yes that’s true Taiga, but she can’t run around and play football in the park today.”
“Oh, OK.” he says, and the sound of the TV takes over as we’re both left to wonder which part of what the other said went in and what was lost in between.
I love this conversation we shared and feel grateful for it.
He gets his ball and walks to the park alone, I give it ten minutes and then follow him down, but I keep my distance. He doesn’t want or need his Dad micro managing his activities here anymore, and anyway the other kids are here alone. So I orbit my son, taking in laps of the park as I listen to Michele Stodart’s beautiful new album ‘Invitation’ a stellar piece of work that invites in the darkness, those unknown feelings we can make little sense of – she articulates so well with her music.
After a while i’m invited to join in for a bit of football practice with Taiga and H. Taiga is keen to practice shooting with his left foot and needs me to assist, to cross the ball in whilst H stands at the foot of the stairwell ‘in goal’. This is a lot of fun although mildly hazardous as the power in T’s shots have greatly increased since the last time we did this and there are younger kids and elderly members of the community milling about in the line of fire. But he’s (marginally!) aware and considerate enough and the moment passes without cause for alarm. We end up staying at the park until after dark as we meet S, a fellow mixed boy a year older than T. The two boys have shared a great bond since T arrived in Japan in 2019. It’s so great to see him and I give him a big hug, “What’s new?” I ask and he replies: “I’ve got a new phone!” proudly holding up his iPhone. It’s a big deal.
The two of them find a seat and play video games together until the cold starts to kick in and Taiga announces it’s time for us to go home. As we turn to leave the park I offer him my coat, which he receives with a cheeky smile and laughs at how big it is on him. I love how his tiny frame is dwarfed by my winter coat. I’m compelled to gather him up in my arms but instead keep a steady pace alongside him and ask “What do you fancy for tea?”