Late Post: Traveling mercies.

I found it! You remember that post that I lost? Well, it showed up! And here it is… happy day.


Yesterday, I hurriedly packed a small striped bag with my old black leggings and new gray sweatshirt, the one that says, “I want another momentum of San Francisco dreaming.” (Japanglish.) I threw in a pumpkin candle, coffee beans and accessories, and small bottle of airplane cabernet. Did I forget anything? Oh yes, my books, one for every mood — entertain me, make me think, push me to write, take me away. I patted the dog, hugged the kids, and practically flew out the door to our little blue car. I remember smiling excitedly at Bryan after I kissed him, not even attempting a compassionate frown or nose crinkeling. After all, I was not sorry to be leaving him with the kids — my heart was proudly on my sleeve. Good-bye!

I drove down 150, passing the McDonald’s we ladies frequent for English Bible study, and headed toward neighboring Yaizu. A little coffee shop called Harvest Moon popped into view, and I pulled over for a cup and a slice of maron pie. I have encountered this kind of pie in other places, though I am still not certain what a maron is — cooked chestnuts, or something similar, perhaps? It was a cafe birthed in the early 90s, by my guess, serving pour over coffee by the bean, cafe au lait, and vienna coffee (conspicuously sounding like “wiener coffee” when said in Japanese, which always wins a childish snicker from me and my husband). There were dead bugs hidden behind small pots in the window sills, burlap coffee bags covering unused spaces, and posters of the Beatles and favorite local bands arranged appealingly on the walls. Picture collages hung in the bathroom, and “Me and Mrs. Jones” played from the record player. Two women sat at the bar, smoking, sipping, and conversing with owner, who let me pick out the cup and saucer I wanted my coffee to be served in. I sat by the window, reading the end of 1984, a hopelessly sad yet philosophically accurate novel, if one forgets the existence of God. I finished my coffee just as Winston was being taken to room 101, and I put the book away to journal.

Back in the blue car, I found my way to the hotel, being reminded by the face of the desk clerks what an anomaly I am in this setting. I am not a traveler, yet I am not a national. You live here?, he inquires, wondering why I have not brought my passport or at least my flight information with me. Yes, I live here. Here is my gaijin card. He proceeded to list policies and amenities, my favorites of which were the free happy hour drinks available in the lobby, and the small but pleasant ofuro on the first level. Of course, I could use the tub in my room, but I’ve adapted in that specific way to this bathing culture, that whenever a public option is available, I take it. I noted the times and took the elevator to my room.

Japanese hotel rooms are essentially beds stuffed into Western walk-in closets, yet superior in every way to the dollar-for-yen American counterpart. They are impeccably kept, and every little space has been thought through. As an introvert and a writer who is distracted by anything extra in my environment, I love these rooms. There, I have only what is necessary: a bed, running water, toilet, and a hot pot for making coffee. I laid on the bed to read, and when I had finished 1984, I opened the window that faced the eki. I listened to the trains come and go, thinking about poor Winston and how a society like Oceania could ever possibly come into existence. They’ve forgotten God, I thought. Of course there cannot be real freedom, real equality, this side of death. It only comes with Jesus, by degrees, until we go into His presence. I watched the evening fade, and though it was only 6p, the darkness made it feel like night. I went to the lobby in search of happy hour.

Sapporo was on tap, so that’s what I had, munching those little peanut packets with orange oblong crunchies thrown in (still no idea what those are called, six years in) — a Japanese staple in beer snacks. My iPhone had died, and I had forgotten my charger, and so I was studying the hand-drawn map from the front desk, deciding where I’d like to eat dinner. Izakaya fare sounded quite good, so I headed out with an umbrella (when was yesterday’s promised rain going to come?) and crossed the train tracks. All the stares, dear me. Not many foreigners frequent this area, I think. At least not by themselves, using Japanese and seeming quite at home choosing yakitori from the menu. I ordered another beer (poor decision, on my part, for I can rarely finish more than one), and let it sit, mostly, sipping infrequently between bites of grilled chicken, garlic cloves, and leeks. I began a new book, by Anne Lamott, and it has already become one of my favorites. I wrote a poem, about the people around me and what they were doing. I prayed for the man drinking a lonely bottle of sake and staring into the distance, wondering if he worked in this city, while his family lived in another. He looked very tired, and so earned my compassion, as the mother who was currently escaping her own tired environment.

When I was full — more than full, actually — I walked back and had my ofuro, that deliciously hot bath that leaves your skin pink and your feet a little swollen. I made faces at a baby whose mother was showering, and wondered at this culture which made nakedness such a natural, homely thing in this setting, while simultaneously feeding its male market a steady diet of “massage” services, phone sex, and pornographic manga available by the bathrooms at the nearest conbini.They just look the other way with that stuff, I suppose. I didn’t want to put on clothes, I was so hot, but I had to walk back to my room, and was thus obliged. Once in my room, I opened the window again to cool down, and continued reading Traveling Mercies. I chucked, I sighed with sadness, I hmmmm-ed in agreement. At one point, I vowed to someday write a book like Anne Lamott would write a book. She has earned her place on my list of favorites, alongside Brennan Manning, Annie Dillard, Henri Nouwen. She is accomplished in telling the stories of life, which is what I’d like to be. I journal some more, and wonder absentmindedly whether or not to sleep with the window open. Our old house is so cold, the ocean breeze blowing right through it, and I am out of my element in this cozy, warm hotel room. I decide against it, thinking the morning trains might make it hard for me to sleep in. I turn out the light and lay my head on the fluffy pillow, wanting to pray for Winston and then remembering that his distressing life is not real. I pray instead for my husband, and remember the faces of my children — the toothless grin of my oldest, the still-chubby cheeks of my middle, the pursed lips and cute frown of my youngest. They all need haircuts, I tell myself, making a mental note. I drift in and out of sleep for the longest time, at times consciously wondering why it is taking me so long to drop off the edge into that deepest of places. It’s because I’m not exhausted, I think. I am refreshed. And peacefully happy, like one of the well-turned phrases in Ms. Lamott’s book, resting on its specified page and waiting for a reader to bring it to life. I think I will do this again. And I fall asleep while visualizing my calendar, deciding how soon I can come back to this place.


gaijin : short for gaikokujin, meaning a person of foreign descent.
ofuro : literally, bathtub, but used often in reference to taking a bath, and almost interchangeable in certain parts of Japan with sento and onsen, which are paid public baths and natural hot springs, respectively.
eki : train station.
izakaya : drinking establishment that offers food that generally accompanies beer and alcohol in this culture.
yakitori : grilled chicken on a stick, of several varieties and flavors, some including leeks, garlic, and/or other vegetables.
conbini : short for “convenience store.”

2 thoughts on “Late Post: Traveling mercies.

  1. Great blog! I had a friend who would often take such trips alone. As a fellow introvert, it sounds really wonderful!. My one room apartment in Yokohama doesn’t offer any place to truly be by myself. I don’t have any kids, but I have an extroverted husband! Haha I hope you can make time in your schedule to get away and alone often.

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