Excerpts from my Japan Journal, 2007-08

September 23, 2007

On the train from Hakata to Beppu, just past Kurosaki. Heading east for the first time in a long while. Chewing on sembei crackers brought from Sachiko in her family store in Ogi, Arita, with Chris before the Juhachiya festival. More than a month ago… time flies.

Thinking of Hiroshima, 2004. Don’t know why, but perhaps it’s the light. Light is often an underestimated memory factor. So many combinations, patterns the sun beams hit, reflect, cast shadows.

Leave memories.

A tunnel makes it dark now and my nostalgic stint evaporates, decrystallizes. People start to crowd the previously empty train, which starts heading backwards, out of the tunnel and back into the light.

But the memory is gone.

And I’m heading forward. In about an hour the train reaches Beppu and new adventures hopefully await. I take another sembei cracker and think of Sachiko.

December 25, 2007

Having neglected the journal for more than two months, I now feel it is time to add a few thoughts regarding my current state of mind – love.

Or so I think. Because isn’t it love when the first thing you think about when you wake up in the morning is your beloved, or her lack of response to your text message sent last night? Or, for that matter, isn’t it love when you realize you never really fell asleep, thinking about the girl you love and how she might reply to the message? Or, rewinding the tape recorder inside your head, thinking about how you would say and do the events of yesterday differently if given a second chance – isn’t that love?

If not, I am stuck in a chronic condition of selfish unloveability.

But yesterday was Christmas Eve, and beside me through the heavily decorated streets of Fukuoka and, earlier, beside the breezy ocean-side of Karatsu, walked a girl named Namiko Katafuchi – or Puchi as she calls herself on Mixi, the Japanese community website where we first touched bases. Originally a friend of my bar mate at the Jet Room, Yohei, Namiko is Saga born and bred, not much for moving away, not much for the big adventures. Never had a foreign friend and her English is improvable to say the least. We don’t, to be honest, share that much in common.

But that is perhaps why I like her so much.

Cool and laid back, smart, good sense of humor, she possesses many of the traits I admire, and for the most part lack myself. She treats me not like a foreigner; she speaks and writes in Saga-ben just as if I was anyone of her new acquaintances. That, I like. It seldom happens in Japan, no matter how well they mean, that you are treated the same way as them. A foreigner is always a foreigner, a funny zoo animal to observe and laugh at or an object to exhibit to learn from and admire. Usually only for half an hour or so. With girls, you might likely be the new experience they long for to gain, rather than someone they like purely for his personality. It’s kind of an auction, an exchange. You bid, or trade cultural experiences.

But experiences are always traded in a relationship and for that a multicultural layer is not required.

Likewise, I am not falling for her so called Asian beauty, the one I am infectiously attracted to and which gives me a twisted neck every time I visit Fukuoka and walk around the Tenjin streets.

No, with Namiko it is something else. Her coolness, her dream, her indifference to me being a foreigner (or the attempt she makes to conceal it, if existing), and the way she makes me long for her after every goodbye, and who makes my heart clapper and stomach twist around when her name pops up on the display window of my keitai.

That, I think, is what love must feel like, having taken a three-year unwanted vacation from it.

And these are the thoughts going through my head right now, having just finished a bowl of Christmas ramen.

The best present (if true and existing) however, has yet to come. Now, time to write a real love letter that will actually be read…

Merry Christmas!

May 4, 2008

On a trip with my old friend Yuri, overlooking from Glover Garden the magnificent harbor city that is Nagasaki.

Here, in between a 17th Century Dutch trade island, a futuristic bridge and an atomic bomb explosion, lies a British tea garden.

Not in the mood for tea, and vendors far from sight, I sip on my vending machine coffee and chew on French chocolates brought by our common friend Celine, on visit last week from Paris.

My head feeling strange, or is it the eyes? But I try to remember, and I do. Almost four years ago I was here. The weather was different, but the view the same. It is sometimes dangerous to play with memories, however. Some are better left sealed, reopened only in imagination.

But here I sit, looking over the ships that have not moved in four years. Or, perhaps like myself, moved and come back.

Yuri is back, and so am I. We share the last piece of chocolate and head for beer, as a freight ship appears in the distant horizon.

July 22, 2008

A massive block of never-ending concrete meets my eyes as I look out the window of the bullet train carrying me across the country from Hakata.

Not yet Shizuoka, and still a while until Tokyo, my destination, is reached, but who could tell the difference?

Not much green to be seen, landscapes far less impressive than the hills and valleys of my place of residence, Kyushu.

But nature is not and has never pretended to be the catch of Tokyo, where I will set foot in about an hour for the fourth time.

Beside me sits a skinny girl with a small, brown bag, typing a message on her cell phone. She got on in Kyoto, though not even slightly representing its classical, somewhat stroppy stereotype. Surely a Tokyoite, as is the woman in brownish skirt-pants and a wry look just passing through our car, and the man in the unbuttoned striped khaki shirt slumbering in the seat in front of me.

All carried toward Tokyo, soon to be sucked in or back by its maelstrom. Unwantedly, judging by the look on their faces. Once caught there is no escape, I think to myself as the landscape outside suddenly changes; the sea and green mountains briefly flash between my eyes, as does the cover of Ryu Murakami’s “69,” set in Sasebo, Kyushu – perhaps trying to give me second thoughts.

But now the landscape is back to its concrete self, and the book slid properly down the outer pocket of my backpack.

And in a few moments, Tokyo.


About Dan Asenlund

I'm a 36-year old writer, filmmaker and memory hunter from Sweden. Life and work has led me in a circle through the United States, Japan, South Korea, Sweden again and Japan again. I'm currently dividing my time between Stockholm and Tokyo. Personal quote: Her kiss was just a sheer reminder of a past that didn't happen and a future never written.
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