Sunday January 18, 1998
Even in the pre-dawn darkness I could hear the rain hitting the window. A perfect day for the museum! And my birthday? Well, we would see.
After our usual "American Breakfast" plus salad and green beans beside the eggs and bacon! and lots of the good coffee, I took our guide book to the hotel desk and pointed out the Tokyo National Museum and asked one of the persons at the desk to write down our destination in script, which he did. He showed his work to a coworker and they agreed that this is what needed to be written.
It was with great confidence we got into the taxi and I showed the driver the slip of paper. In a very grumpy voice, he let me know he did not understand. I repeated, "Tokyo National Museum" and "Ueno Park" in English but this only seemed to incite him to greater agitation. He rolled down the window and yelled to the doorman. He looked at the Japanese as if it was written in a foreign language.
With a word that sounded emphatic enough to be a swear word, the driver leaped out of the cab and strode into the hotel. We sat hunched down in the back seat. The driver returned with several men from the hotel desk. No one could understand my English. With more harsh-sounding words, the hotel personnel motioned that we should get out of the cab. The doors slammed shut automatically and the driver sped off. It was so embarrassing even though it was not really my fault.
I went back up to the room, got the guide book and everyone at the front desk gathered around giving advice. There were five museums in Ueno Park and I could not believe how hard it was to get them to understand that we wanted to go to the biggest one -- the Tokyo National Museum. Were we the first guests to ever go there? Anyhow, right off the bat we missed Okimoto-san very much! And I thought it would be so easy to go to the museum without him.
The streets were still narrowed from piles of snow but the rain made the trip rather hectic as this driver, younger and able to understand where we were going, seemed terribly eager to get us there and get rid of us. We felt dumped out into the rain at the pay booth. There was a long, wet walk up to the museum itself, but both of us had hoods on our coats, so we arrived dry.
At the front desk was a tiny woman with red-dyed white hair who spoke beautiful English. She guided us to lockers where we could stow away our coats down in the basement. I cast one look in the museum gift shop and knew we would save that for the end.
The museum building itself was undergoing earthquake retro-fitting so over half of it was closed. Lucky us, or we would have killed ourselves trying to see everything. I don't know what happens to us in museums: whether it is the dim lighting, the stuffy air, the ages settling around all the treasures, the violent acts which ripped these things from place to place. I don't know except here, too, we both felt some force was sitting us down in each room and making us sit there until we had studied every object. Fortunately the leather couches were comfy and offered the best views.
The first room began with the oldest objects for worship and war.
gods and armor
in adjoining rooms
the feelings of fear
the ear in fear
portal of anxiety
sitting down to still
my quaking knees
I was happiest in the rooms with huge statues of deva kings and Buddhas. It was so nice to sit in the dim light, seeing the figures in their lighted wooden cages.
four Deva kings
the empty museum
is very full
We had gotten here just as they were opening and there were not many visitors. We often had the rooms all to ourselves and the occasional guard.
yet on the Buddha's chest
traces of gold
700 year-old Buddha
The tour brought us to the cold, austere air in a foyer that overlooked the back of the museum garden.
still deep days later
after the storm
in a frozen pond
a woman speaks with her hand
before her mouth
Much quieter were the rooms hung with painted scrolls. Though some of the calligraphy was very exciting, to me. I kept seeing the original person's hand executing the movements. Hair flying. Robe sleeves waving silk.
too excited to write
dreams into the past
poised before the displays
and on the screens
the Emperor's wrist
moves on the wall
that kind of people
in the museum
rolled into dizziness
of a scroll book
Room by room we saw it all. And because of the construction, had to walk back past everything we had seen, to review our favorites once again.
before and behind me
By the time we descended down into the basement, I felt too overwhelmed to ask for more by shopping but I had to make a 'run-through' so I would be sure not to have missed anything. Werner found the lounge and a coke machine and rested. I worked myself into a tizzy.
Back in the farthest-most case I found a copy of Basho's "Narrow Road to the North" in scroll form with the illustrations from Buson bigger than I had ever guessed they could be. Instant coveting. I wanted this! ¥19,000. I got so light-headed I had to sit down to do the math. About $150. My birthday gift? "Yes!" Werner said. And I was totally happy. I had the feeling I could not leave Tokyo if I did not get that book.
Now quieted, I was able to shop for postcards. I had been so ashamed last night as I tried to write to my children, that most of the cards I had picked out in Asakusa were not really suitable for family correspondence. So I concentrated on getting a special card for each of the 11 grandchildren. There is an element of Japanese mythology that delights in the bizarre which greatly appeals to something within me. I thought I was alone in this until I saw the books Werner picked out to buy!
I did most of my looking in a section where the books were in English, but he roamed all of them, buying for the pictures, not the information. We went out of there loaded down with two big shopping bags reinforced with plastic and taped shut against the rain.
We had to wait quite awhile for a taxi to appear (there were not many people coming to the museum at all, and even less by taxi). We could see among the bushes and small trees the blue plastic tarpaulin tents of the homeless. They were even more entrenched than their American counterparts in San Francisco Golden Gate Park. I was surprised that such a well-ordered country as Japan allowed this. But evidently they, too, were caught between knowing it was wrong to permit people to camp in a public park and not knowing where to send them.
Our next taxi driver, obviously not having much business, took us on the scenic route all around and through the park. The extra charge was very small and it was probably the only time I would get to see the famous park.
Back in the hotel, hot showers and a nap for Werner and a read in a new book, revived us greatly. By evening I was raring to go and dressed to the nines.
In Shukuya-san's fax he had written that Nakajima-san had something to discuss with us. I was hoping that he would have something to report about my suggestions I had made to him, via Okimoto-san on the 14th, regarding further work together. I thought this was going to be a business meeting but tonight all the men were in casual clothes! As always Nakajima-san was the smartest looking. He came with a big black shopping bag. I thought we were only going to talk.
In the Japanese-style restaurant (another party had gotten the tea room) we sat on chairs at the table. Still the food and service was Japanese, beginning with the beer toasts. Yamamoto-san always laughs at me when I toast with ice-water. I think he thinks I should unbend enough to at least pretend to drink a beer with the boys.
In an effort to relate, I asked him his opinion about the kabuki theater. He admitted he had gone only a couple of times, but he definitely knew we should go. Before I knew what was happening, Shukuya-san was talking to his hand again on his telephone. He leaped up from the table and returned with one of the newspapers from the lobby. The two of them consulted while I was still trying to get my chopsticks to behave, and get the slippery bit of fish to my lips, it was arranged that we would go to kabuki on Tuesday.
Nakajima-san seemed to be almost bouncing in his chair. It was if he could hardly wait any longer. He was sitting next to Werner to my right and I could feel all of his unusual fidgeting. As soon as he could, he set down his glass he reached into his shopping bag and pulled out a small white box. "Oh," I thought, "he found out about my birthday because we had to reveal our ages for the order of seating at the poetry party."
He did not hand the white box to me, but instead set it down between us and opened it himself. He pulled away the cloth to reveal a white and gold-trimmed sake cup. Nakajima-san talked to me and Werner. I couldn't help but notice Yamamoto-san, who was expected to translate. I saw Yamamoto-san's eyes getting bigger and bigger. He raised up out of his chair to look into the box. While Nakajima-san was still explaining the cup in Japanese, Yamomoto was interrupting him with English in his excitement, saying, "I have never seen that before! Can that be?" Then he began to question Nakajima-san in Japanese. I felt as if I had disappeared. He held out his hand and Nakajima-san handed the cup to him. He counted the petals in the chrysanthemum crest and looked at me, saying, "It really is the mon, the how do you say?, the crest of the Imperial Family -- there are sixteen petals in the flower."
When he sat down again after handing the cup back to Nakajima-san, Yamamoto-san swallowed, took a healthy sip of beer and began to translate to me.
This white and gold cup is the one the Emperor drank his ceremonial sip of sake to celebrate the New Year. He had given it to Nakajima-san to give to me as a gift of appreciation for the work done for tanka.
I was afraid to touch the cup. Nakajima-san insisted that he be able to place it in my hands. I was so afraid I would drop it, that I put it back on the table as quickly as I could. Just as quickly he put it back into its silken cover and closed up the box. We were all deeply shaken.
Then Nakajima-san summoned the waitress. She began bringing bottles of sake to the table. After a serious consultation the one in the bright blue bottle was chosen. For this toast, I had to take at least a polite sip. But this was delicious! Delighted and encouraged, a bottle of plum wine was ordered. A tiny glass was filled. I had intended only to sniff this, but the flavor came right up off the glistening surface so I could not resist a sip. Only chocolate has come closer to my heart. Oh, that was superb! Plum blossoms came back into my life in liquid form.
I hardly remember what we ate that evening. One beautiful dish after another passed before my unseeing eyes. Later, during a pause between courses (Werner counted 17, again) Nakajima-san gave me his personal gift. A large and very heavy black box with tigers on it which contained a bean-paste sweet that looked like a tourmaline with its shading from red to green. It was beautifully packed in the large leaf of a banana tree (?). Now that the candy is gone, the box still holds the precious memories of that evening.
As we were leaving the restaurant, I remember thinking, "We might as well go home, now. Everything has been done perfectly." Only later, while writing in my notes, did I remember that Nakajima-san and I had discussed nothing of any future plans. And no one had mentioned my birthday. And yet I had received the finest gift one could ever wish for.
Proceed to Monday
January 19 , 1998.