Volcano Pilgrim
Five months in Japan as a wandering poet

Tokyo – Karuizawa

Tokyo is awash in cartoons. Most common are the line-drawn caricatures in the style called kawaii, loveable or cute – big heads, open and appealing faces. Metro Panda warns you not to get your fingers pinched in the subway doors. Buildings with broad faces weep enormous tears to have graffiti drawn upon them. Animate cigarette butts leap smilingly into ashtrays. Even the police have a mascot, Pipo-Kun, a sort of flying squirrel sprouting a Jetson-like antenna out of his head. On every public surface, street sign and subway, they exhort, model, nudge, so sweetly, so gently.

Something about these childlike figures appeals deeply. They conjure up a world where the worst is a scraped knee or a mild scolding, where Nurse Kitty and Officer Dog are always close at hand, ready to set you straight. There is a real pathos in what they do not show. Could any country be as tenderhearted as the cartoons suggest?


            The end of childhood

                        a bunny with a bandage

                                    weeping coin-sized tears 


You are seeing so many cartoon animals that you are starting to imagine them everywhere. The lead car of a shinkansen train, for example, looks less like a bullet, and more like the snout of a cartoon duck or crocodile. As the suburbs of Tokyo slide by, it occurs to you that this is the fastest you have ever traveled in something touching the ground. Last night and this morning you spent on the phone with R, your talk made difficult and strange by the circumstance of talking across a fifteen-hour time difference. You are Saturday while she is Friday, and the two of you keep returning to a conversation that only one of you has had a chance to sleep on.

You’re only going to sit around and brood, she says. You’re in Japan, you should enjoy it, you should get out and have an adventure.

Outside the window Tokyo keeps going and going.


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