Volcano Pilgrim
Five months in Japan as a wandering poet

Tokyo, 5

In the middle of Hibiya Park there is a long white tent, the sort set up to provide medical attention at outdoor festivals. On the map it is labeled Shelter for People Who Cannot Get Home. Probably it is meant for commuters who have one drink too many and miss the last train, but there is something touchingly literal about this, and ironic.

Tokyo seems filled with people who cannot get home. You have never seen so many street people, lying out on benches or pavement, bare feet thick as hooves. Others have pitched what seem like more permanent shelters, cubes of blue plastic tarp, their sides plumb straight. Some have laid down little yards of cardboard, others have hung their clothes out on the park railing to dry. Someone has crunched a line of beer cans around a rail, but neatly, turning each one at a right angle to the next, to form a pleasing pattern. Even the homeless in Japan have a sense of design.

The Imperial Palace Gardens are bare and beautiful, a composition of dwarf pine trees, raked gravel, smooth-clipped lawn.

             Nothing so empty

                         as an army parade ground

                                     without an army


At Tokyo Station, you are at last hungry enough to overcome your shyness and sit down at ramen counter. It makes it easier that noodle soup is the only thing on the menu. The only contribution asked of you is your choice of broth: soy or miso? The noodles are tasty, especially when doctored with pickled ginger, red bean paste, hot sesame oil and ground sesame seeds, and for a few minutes you are absorbed by their taste and texture, warm and full and complete. Halfway back to your hotel, though, the sadness catches up to you again, as you gradually remember how it feels to move through the world alone.


            In a tiny room

                        the paper squares of window

                                    blue in the twilight

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