Throughout my 26 years in Japan, I never lived in Tokyo. Instead, I was a Shonan Girl, having chosen to live on the stretch of coastline south of Yokohama nicknamed shonan.
First in Chigasaki, because that was where Akii had his rokku-jo (six mat) appartment in 1986. Then Kamakura (1988-1990) in an old teahouse, now demolished. Hayama (1990-2002) a two-floor property currently being used as a storehouse. And finally Zushi (2002-2012) – a home so large and rambling it had four toilets and could seat 50 upstairs for rakugo (storytelling) events.
Now I have no home in Japan. The country itself is my second home, just as Scotland is now my first. So when I decided to return in late March after two-and a half years, the dilemma arose: where to stay.
Akii was with his aunt in Chigasaki. No room at the inn there for me. Quite literally no space…
So I based myself with Kathryn in her house in Shimokitazawa, a few stops from Shibuya in central Tokyo, from which I came and went as need and journeying dictated.
March 29 was a big day. It was the Sunday afternoon booked at the Wesley Centre in Minami-aoyama by Sarah, Kathryn and Jacinta for a 2-6pm session of Proprioceptive Writing. These three stalwarts are all graduates of the writing programme (Drawing on the Writer Within), having completed all four levels. They were joined by four others, who had either done first level as workshops, or simply loved and valued PW. It was so interesting to hear their WRITES after so long. Some in a far far better place, others facing new – and old, returned – confusions…
Afterwards we walked to a restaurant designed to appeal to foreign visitors. Here we were joined by Etsuko and Robyn, and also Akii, the token male. Where were all the male writers of DOTWW’s yesteryear? James, Jeffrey, Tomoyuki, Charlie, Brendan, and so many more? Busy with work, or families, or simply moved on…
No doubt encouraged by large quantities of alcohol and the excitement of the occasion, the idea of an autumn retreat was mooted and quickly became a matter of serious discussion. Not easy since noise levels made conversation far from comfortable. It was something I really noticed on my visit in general, how living in the peace and quiet of rural Scotland has made noise that I once took for granted near intolerable.
Two venues were suggested: Misaki, a coastal fishing village on the Miura peninsula south of Yokohama, and the National Women’s Education Centre in Saitama, north of Tokyo. October seemed a good month for everyone, so it was agreed to research further.
Thinking this far ahead however is a matter of conjecture. Being located in the Pacific’s geological Ring of Fire, Japan has always been unstable. But right now everyone is anxious.
Memories of 3/11 (the earthquake, tsunami and resulting nuclear meltdowns of March 11, 2011) are unfaded for anyone who lived through that time, and recent events have been more than a little unsettling: a volcano coming to life near Mt Fuji, another erupting off Kyushu, and several significant tremors. The last, an 8.5M, was far away and very deep, but unusually felt by the whole archipelago.
Still the Japanese and those who choose to stay in Japan and visit on any regular basis are in general a stoic lot. So we made plans and looked ahead with collective optimism.
Outside we lined up under the beautiful alive-alive-o cherry tree for a photograph before saying sayonara. Efrot, Sarah and Ruthie were returning to families. Geneva was off to meet her fiancee’s Chinese family. Jacinta to have a drink with Petya before going home to pack for her job in Shanghai. Akii back to Chigasaki, I to Kathryn’s home, sharing a taxi with Etsuko. And so with hugs and kisses and even a few tears we parted…
Time had passed. We were all older. And if not wiser, more experienced. Above all else, grateful.
Grateful to be survivors. To know so many other such excellent women. To have the written word to express ourselves and know better how to do so with increasing ease and authenticity each and every PW practice.
For my self, looking back and with yet another reinvention (birth) day packed under my belt, I am simply grateful to have lived so long.