Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Tokyo then and now

Lately, my emotions are on the recent devastation in Japan from the earthquake and tsunami.  As living in Tokyo four years in the 1980's, I can recall often feeling the earth trembling under my feet, and being in some of the top floors in tall buildings when they swayed. I would see sites from windows never seen when the ground was still.  It was always a paralyzing fear until it settled down.

I recall one night early fall, having the windows open in my home, and hearing Japanese conversations within homes of nearby neighbors through their open windows.  Birds chirping in the trees. The gentle sounds of life.  All enjoying a warm, beautiful evening. Then suddenly, a roar under my home!  As if a subway train raced by; there were none.  Then everything shook.  Books came toppling off shelves. I tried running down the hall to stand under my front door's threshold.  I couldn't make it as I fell due to the violent shaking of my home.  Then everything stopped.  And there were no sounds outside. Even the birds stopping singing.  It was as if we all waited for more to come as aftershocks were common.  There were none afterwards.

I was told the next day that just before the stronger quakes strike, "the ground warns us."  My experience was minor in comparison to March 11th.  And for me, 7 months later, I returned to the states to live and work on stable ground. 

Recently, I located one of my favorite black and white photos of a home in my neighborhood.  I lived in Kami-osaki of Shinagawa-ku, Tokyo.  Approx. 300 yards from Meguro train station.  The neighborhood was especially lovely as there were many old homes within gated walls. The entrance to this private residence was behind these old wooden gates.  I loved how the smaller door could only fit one person as a protection for the owner to easily defend himself with sword from being captured during olden times.  That door is to the right in the photo.

I would walk past the gates often during the week to/from the train station to my office at the Daichi-Seimi building in Shinjuku.  It was sometime during my 3rd year living there, the owner's wife would stand outside the balcony of the 2nd floor window in her kimono and slightly bow when our eyes connected at the end of the day. We never spoke as my Japanese language skills were weak.  However, I felt she accepted me as a resident in her husband's neighborhood.  "Her husband's" I say, as his was the oldest and largest of one of the first homes in the area.  Family tradition is strong in the Orient as each generation passes their home to the eldest male child.  

I would stop and turn to her with a mannerly bow of respect and continue on to my home with warmth in my heart.  My last year living there, I decided to turn my bow into a friendly smile and hand wave, and her warmth mirrored mine.  This was one of my daily routines I looked forward to.  Perhaps one of hers as well?

I now ponder, is their home still standing? I truly hope so. The owner was in his late early 70's.  Does the same family still live there? They did have a son.  I never met, or saw.  I ponder also if she thought of those moments with me years later?  I have always felt life is ever more beautiful when our souls continue to touch each other.  Surpassing distance and time. 

So here I sit, years later in the office next to my studio sharing a memory and living in the mid-west.  A part of my heart will always remain in Japan.  For my wonderful life adventure and memories, I will always smile as it is why I am the person I am today.  And then, thinking what they all felt on the 11th and lost, and experiencing this very moment . . . I will always feel sorrow.