Friday January 9, 1998

Am so aware that in 24 hours I will not be in this room, looking out this window. Have not been able to sleep so I had gotten up to jot down some poems that were ringing in my head. They were the result of a long dream I had in which I was (again) helping put on a wedding. I was not involved as one of the family of the wedding party, but was responsible for making the ceremony run smoothly. Looking this up in all the dream books has not been helpful; nothing they record seems to relate to anything to the trip to Japan or my coming birthday which each year surprises me by the intensity of feelings which accompany it.

coming of age
with so many years
to an ancient rite
a party for poetry muses
and I have been invited

It still feels like a dream I have not yet had. Yet I have memories. Werner relating to me of finding the yellow slip of paper in the mail box that notified him a certified letter had to be claimed from the desk. How the post office had just closed, yet the keys were still hanging in the door. When the postal worker looked up and saw him, she waved and Werner waved the yellow card back at her hoping he was not too late to get it redeemed. How relieved he was when the worker came from behind the desk to unlock the door, saying, "Yes, we have a certified letter for you."

When the postmaster came from the inner sanctum of his desk, he was carrying a thick white envelope on both of his hands outstretched. Before Werner could clearly see the return address, he smelled the rich incense that floated before it. Then he saw - Imperial Palace, Tokyo, Japan, as the weight of the letter pressed into his hand.

By the time Werner got home, I had the table set for supper, but when I heard that the invitation was truly here, I quickly cleared away the dishes. We were glad to quiet our shaking knees by sitting down.

Slowly and carefully we broke the seal on the envelope. Inside were two more envelopes, heavy with handwriting in the black ink of Japanese characters. Obviously these were the two invitations - one for each of us, but which was which? Then I recognized the four katakana characters for "Jane" so we were able to open the appropriate packets. And a good thing that was, because we could see that all the materials were numbered. Mine had #71 on each piece and Werner's had a #36. This we could read. And that was all.

One cardboard ticket, about 10 by 14 inches, had the yellow imperial chrysanthemum printed on it and a huge numeral repeated on several perforated sections. I could feel the tension of passing the check points on the palace grounds as we would give up the various parts of the ticket.

A few days before we had received a fax from Mutsuo Shukuya, an English teacher, diagramming the reply card, showing which characters to circle and where to sign, and put our names and addresses and the stamps. With the feeling that someone was guiding our hands to write strange letters, we carefully filled out our individual cards. We wondered why our numbers were so far apart and already assumed that we would not be sitting together for the Poetry Party at the Palace. But we were definitely on our way.

Now our suitcases were packed -- ready to be closed.

into the suitcase
marks we have made
our many books
of lives we are still living
the lid cannot close

I wondered if we were too old to make such an exciting trip. Had we lived too long like hermits in the quiet retirement on this remote coast? Would the city, the traffic, the excitement pop a fatal blood vessel? Should we be like the Buddhist monk with the strength to refuse the summons to court, saying he preferred his humble home?

But the chance to finally visit Japan, about which we had studied, read, and dreamed was just too enticing. Still we had been warned that the Japan of its literature was not the Japan of today. Other travelers warned us that we were chasing after lost times -- like going to England and expecting to find Camelot beside the freeway.

For this reason, we plan for as few days as possible in Tokyo, fleeing as soon as we could to Kamakura, the capitol in the 11 - 13th centuries which was by-passed and forgotten when Tokyo became the new center of the country. Here, along a coast similar to ours, we think, was greater hope of finding. . . at least some of our fantasies still alive.

It was amazing. How one minute I could feel so calm and assured about going on the trip and only seconds later be in the grip of consuming panic. How to get through the day in one piece of peace? I kept telling myself, "I am okay." I cleaned house and when I got too tired to do any more I laid down to read Jo Ann Ridley's Looking for Eulebee Dix -- it had to be something that had nothing to do with Japan. I listened to weather reports on the radio. El Nino was beginning to affect us. Would the heavy rain predicted for tomorrow hold off until we got to San Francisco?

Copyright © Jane Reichhold 1998

Proceed to Chapter One .