Back in our steamy New York thunderstorm apartment, disoriented and happy, surrounded by the contents of our just-unpacked suitcases.: piles of notebooks, geta, bags of tea, comic books, ticket stubs for Kyoto temples, toys, bags, yukata, cute stickers and stationery, photo albums, hair ornaments, and miniatures… we bought too much and I wish I’d bought more. I wish I could buy that whole weird country to keep in my apartment. I would like to buy the rivers and the mountains and the pine trees and bamboo groves and the craggy rocks by the river out of which grow little pink flowers. I would like to buy every canned beverage, pachinko machine, every tacky love hotel replete with its faux classical statues, every bottle of plum wine, every weird pickled cucumber and bag of dried seaweed, every pair of socks with a separate place for the big toe, every train with their plush seats and immaculate passengers. I would shrink everything down even more than it’s already shrunken down, and get special magnifying glasses so that I could look at it whenever I wanted, a giant kami sama, my hair would sweep down on it like Gojira perhaps… Japan is the strangest place n the planet but I love it more than anywhere except India, where I’ve never been and might not love so much when I actually get there. It hurts my heart to be back in New York, because I can’t be in Japan. It shouldn’t hurt my heart to be here, because here there are so many people I love who I can talk to about matters of substance. Here there are overflowing opportunities for urban spelunking and kaleido-cultural immersions. The only problem is that it is not Japan, with its particular forms and flowers and customs and light.

Gary and I agreed that this trip was the most fun one we had ever taken. I knew he would love it there, would be completely absorbed into the comic book aesthetic of it — he’s a natural.

It was a trip full of high points. Here are some of the highest —

Takaragawa onsen in Gunma prefecture — a vast outdoor bath of slightly sulfurous water that made our skin feel like satin — mixed bathing so we could be in the bath together — a rushing river next to the bath — arrangements of stones & stone lanterns — mist rising from the water — wooden changing room — accessible by paths through delicate landscapes ….

(here I stopped out of sheer jetlag…)

I’d expected a gray and humid rainy season here in Tokyo, but the sky is deep blue and the sun as shiny as can be. !!Lucky!!

In a sense, it’s as if I’d never left. Some vocabulary has evaporated, but I find myself happily chattering away in Japanese — a great relief to be able to trust my organic hard disk.

Things are a little newer here, more modern — Starbucks everywhere, including my favorite ‘hood, Shimo-Kitazawa (sort of the East Village or Berkeley of Tokyo) — but there is still the delightful surprise of the old (shrines, little bent old people) nestled among the new.

Gary has been diligent, taking amazing pictures on our new digital camera his mom kindly gave us, and writing every little bit of weird English he sees in a tiny notebook he’s dubbed “Language Heaven.” He notices and fixates on things that I totally take for granted — it seems he has to stop and look at every vending machine, which is to me both annoying and endearing.

He loves it here, and I’m so glad. It’s an enchanting place. I took him one day to my old neighborhood, a little fairyland of twisty streets and shops selling sushi and little cakes and shopping bikes, blessed with both a Buddhist temple (famous for its shrine to lucky cat statues — pictures to follow eventually) and a Shinto shrine where I used to steal dolls from the “sacred burnable garbage” area. Blooms everywhere: huge bushes of St.John’s Wort, hydrangea — the splendid irises in the iris garden in Yoyogi park… the “tropical” aspect of Tokyo’s “semi-tropical” climate is gloriously evident.

G. can’t wait to get out of the house (we’re staying with my old friend and colleague Kathy). He just said to me, “Girlfriend’s writing a novel. You can’t wait to write a novel until you retire?” [He still calls me “girlfriend” despite our new status — although he did also say today, “you are my wife now and you have to do what I say” (!!)] It’s still very early, though the light is bright. We’re jetlagged. I’ve never been so jetlagged. It’s much harder coming here from NY than from SF. I’ve gone, after four days, from waking up at 2 am and not being able to sleep at all to waking up at 5:30 after sleeping like a boulder, unable to go out with friends to party at night because too catatonically sleepy. Sigh. Tonight we will be sure to view the neon kanji everywhere.

This is such a much more delicate place to live than New York. I’ve been revelling in the convenience stores, where we have been buying stuff for our breakfasts — little mini packs of eggs and ham and pastries as well as hijiki salad with lotus root and devil’s tongue or, this morning, nanohana no karashi-ae (broccoli rabe in mustard sauce??). Barley tea in cartons. Gary and I pigging out at Fujiya bakery on anmitsu desserts — mine had “soft cream” (like frostyfreeze ice cream) little squares of agar-agar, a plum, a piece of apricot, and sweet bean paste, drizzled over with kuro-ame syrup! How could I have forgotten how charming it is?

The tatami smell, even more fragrant in the heat, brings it all right back like a Proustian injection right to the bloodstream. It makes me feel many things at once, suddenly reexperiencing recalled parties and assignations, intense loneliness and piquant joy… ohhhh… Japan…