02 April 2018

Pasta for love

I woke up in Tokyo a few weeks ago. There is something settling about the transfer to the JR line, the Yamanote, that makes me feel young and at home. I had a hotel room this time, a proper one rather than the capsule I stayed in last time when I was on my way to Sapporo. After dropping my bags, I walked up to Ginza, remembering for some reason a day that Yoko and I had been in a Starbucks there after Naomi was born. I don't know why we were there, if it was because of visas for the UK or what exactly. I just remember sitting there in the summer and Yoko looking healthy and happy after the pregnancy, and feeling like things were going to be okay.

The next day, I took the shinkansen north to Toyama City and fell asleep again through the tunnels where the pressure changes and your ears feel it. I had taken a shinkansen north the second year I was in Japan, when I wasn't paying for it and the company I had gotten a job with told me to meet Mrs Nunogawa in Niigata and bought the ticket. I had a pit in my stomach then, a fear that I had made a mistake and shouldn't have left Fukuoka, or Chicago, or anywhere. That I was stuck, but didn't have any choice but to keep going, what else was I going to do. Nunogawa-san did meet me in Niigata station and took me up to a little apartment near a school I was teaching at, just down the road, and I realised as we came into the town, and looked out, the Sea was right there. I could walk to it. 

Last year, before my return to Japan, we were in the midst of some visa crisis, thinking we would need to go back to Japan after being deported by the Home Office. This time, I didn't have time to think about much — Yoko and I had lunch the day I left, eating without anything to say. I finally came around to packing my bag at three or four in the afternoon and drove to the station with Yoko and Mia, the other girls all off with their friends. I drank a small bottle of wine and got on the plane in Charles de Gaulle with the intention of just sleeping. We took off and I fell asleep and then read and then slept through the landing, looking out to see Tokyo in the rain. 

Japan creates a different pit in my stomach now. It's regret, I think — if I'm looking for the best English word I know — regret for a life that I could have lived, in Kobe where I would have taught English and done my PhD part-time. Yoko and I would be better, I tell myself as the train coasts through some town in the mountains and a well-dressed family passes with bento lunches and the father smiling. There would be less pressure on us to make things successful. There would be no British pessimism, Edwardian terrace houses, or non-stop Anglican lent services. 

On Sunday morning, I ran the 10 kilometers from the University to the Sea of Japan. In Matsuhama, where I lived in Niigata, you could just about see it from my window. Yoko and I stayed in that apartment when we got married — Naomi came back to it, and the windows could be opened to let the sea air in. I ran the Matsuhama Bridge over the Agano River again and again thinking about the future in the UK or some other place, like I needed to prove it to myself.

This time, in Toyama, I ran up to the sign, the one that said you couldn't go any further on the jetty. I stopped and took pictures of the grey morning. There were men fishing on the rocks and the sun was coming up. I took pictures until I realised this was it, this was all there was. There was no magic to be had, all you can do is look and turn around and keep going. The decisions can't be remade.