Saturday, June 7, 2014

The Letter From Tokyo

[Part 6 of 6 of "Once There Was Anne"]


I hope you’re doing fine by the time you get to read this letter. It’s been a week since I arrived in Tokyo. So far, things are going well, I suppose. I went to Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden the other day, and I found out that I was just in time for the start of the cherry blossom season. There’s no other way to put it: it was white and pink almost everywhere. There were a lot of people, mostly tourists I think. Generally, I try to avoid crowded parks — agoraphobia? — but yesterday was an exception. I’m afraid I’d soon get used to being surrounded by a lot of strangers, in parks or anywhere else, especially in a city such as this one, which I now think isn’t so bad. I’m starting to realize that I shouldn’t allow this fear to outlive me. Besides, it’s not as if the people here know who I am.

It’s a lot colder here than I was expecting, what with having lived a large part of my life in a tropical country, and the weather here might just as well be enough fuel for poetic license. No surprise: Tokyo, of course, is not a city without its own army of poets of some kind, and quite a few are more cavalier, or insouciant, than the rest. They thrive here. They seem to feed on the perennial promise of snow. I met one four days ago. Her name is Hinata, which, according to her, literally means “sunny place,” or “in the sun,” in Nihongo. I asked her if she finds any irony between her name and her winter-inspired poems. She said she doesn’t give a damn because a name is just a name. Nothing more. They really don’t mean anything. “Like Anne,” Hinata said, and she didn’t sound like she was kidding.

Which reminds me: Japan seems to have its own brand of humor. I’ve seen parts of it in the television set in the room where I’m staying. Many of the commercials are too funny and too strange that I don’t quite know how to describe them in detail. I get a good, momentary laugh from them, and sometimes I wonder if the occupants of the adjacent rooms get bothered by my guffaw, especially in the middle of the night. No complaints so far, though, so I guess it’s all good. Maybe they know why. Maybe they’ve already had a hearty laugh from those commercials long before I came here, and perhaps they’ve already been accustomed to their own humor that they no longer find it funny or, least of all, amusing. Talk about people getting desensitized. Which probably explains why the commercials keep getting stranger and stranger; they need to keep up with the build-up of callus among the viewers.

Anyway, I’ve just returned from Odaiba, which is an island in Tokyo Bay. Actually, it’s an artificial island built during the 1850s. Artificial. While I was there, though, I didn’t notice. It looked like any other natural island, like the one in Nasugbu. Perhaps a century is enough to turn something artificial into something natural, or quite close to being one. Strange what the passage of time can do. I’ve heard that there’s a lantern festival in Odaiba during summer. At night, the paper lanterns by the beach would light up the place, they say. I think it’s quite a spectacle to behold. Perhaps it’s as if some of the stars have decided to sit by the shoreline at night so that they can understand how beautiful the sky will always be for as long as they’re in it.

And then there’s University of Tokyo. People call it Todai, which is short for Tokyo daigaku. It’s beautiful and strange at the same time — beautiful because it looks just like UP Diliman, which is what makes it equally strange. For the first time in my life I knew what it meant to see something so foreign yet so familiar. It felt like standing in two places at the same time and not knowing what to do. Or worse, it was like being stranded in a rift between two different hours of the day in the same place, like day and night, and not being sure if I was awake or dreaming. Poetic license? Perhaps. Perhaps Tokyo has already gotten into me. That fast. Like a disease. An incurable affliction deep in my veins.

Stranger, still, is that Tokyo seems to have been trapped between the old and the new, as though it can only move forward by dragging its past with it, and for this dissonance alone I’m starting to believe that this is no mere city. It can’t be. It’s an organism. It’s alive, or quite alive, as if it’s always on the brink of being born an old man. Everywhere there are temples from years past. Everywhere there are modern structures that seem to race to the sky, if not the future. Maybe that’s the secret of this city, as in life: the only way to move on is to move with the past, not away from it. This schism is confusing, I understand, but so are the most salient lessons I’ve ever realized.

I wish I can stay here indefinitely, but that would be asking too much. I don’t have much time, which is one of the many luxuries in this world I can barely afford. I’ll write to you again soon, though I don’t quite know exactly when. Ki o tsukete (take care).



P. S.

My hands are sweating too much while writing this, and I feel like I’m becoming water. I hope you’d still be able to understand the parts where the ink seems to have been smudged. My bad. I’m sorry.

Tokyo, Japan
April 13, 1991

Part 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6


kae said...

What. The letter found its way, a little too late perhaps. Where's part 7? :)

SPLICE said...

I wish I know where part 7 is, Kae. I really wish I know. :)