Breath of Fresh Air

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First greening of the Noh River and people appearing to sit out in the sun, Noh River, Chofu, Tokyo, Japan, 2004

Sleeping under a blizzard of blossums, Noh River, Tokyo, Japan, 2004

Children wandering imaginary lands, Noh River, Chofu, Tokyo, Japan, 2004


After surfacing from a three day marathon designing spree with only 2 hours of sleep and three weeks of intense conceptual designing for the Keio Plaza Hotel brochure I’ve been working on, I’m just teetering on the brink of throwing in the towel. While design work is fun and stimulating, I can’t see why anyone would subject themselves to such mental and physical abuse. With an evening job teaching English, a day time job writing (after all, that’s what I’m doing all this other stuff for), and a non-negotiable regimen of exercise to stave off the horrors of diabetes (which I’ve none-the-less compromised by neglecting exercise for two weeks now because of all this work) personally I cannot handle the stress any more. I was so wound up on Sunday night, in anticipation of a big meeting yesterday, that I lay awake for three hours trying to get to sleep, but visions of brochure designs kept floating through my brain and finally I rolled out of bed to finish up some preliminary sketches.

All day yesterday it was a series of mishaps and blunders and micro-crises: I misplaced my keys before heading out for the meeting… then had a woman nearly run me over with her bicycle… then had trouble with the ticket vending machine at the station when it wouldn’t accept the large bill I had slipped into it… thereby missing the scheduled train… then took the wrong train to the wrong train exit (Shinjuku station is this huge rabbit warren that has more than a million people passing through each day) and was late for the meeting. The meeting itself went very well and everyone seemed happy with the design. That alone set my nerves at ease for the first time in days.

The cherry blossoms are erupting everywhere, like a slow motion counter strike by a peace-loving anti-terrorism contingent, tired of the inundation of terrorism news. I couldn’t let this go by of course, and so last week took two hours to try out my newly refitted folding bicycle and ride along the Noh River near my apartment.

Arches of cherry tree limbs, Noh River, Chofu, Tokyo, 2004

New opening cherry blossoms, Noh River, Chofu, Tokyo, 2004

What made my whole week, though, was a little encounter with a French woman and her son on the train home from the meeting. I first saw her pushing her baby carriage on the platform while waiting for the train. She carried an air of joy and nonchalance that resided in her eyes and smile, and in the way she coddled her son and kept kissing him. She even glanced up and smiled at me, which, if you know anything about Japan in public, is about as rare as good cheese and clean rivers.

I couldn’t take my eyes off her, so out of place this all seemed. While everyone else was sitting straight and still as boards, staring into the void, myself included, she and her Japanese son seemed to move outside of the general sphere. She brought her face close to the baby’s and they locked eyes, followed by many kisses. I kept thinking, “Wow, she’s so French!” (she was speaking to her son in French, that’s how I knew she was French) But it was more than that. I also kept thinking, this physical interaction with her child, this unabashed display of affection, this “skinship” as the Japanese call such a relationship between two people, is what lays the base for a strong confidence in oneself. This little boy knows he is loved and will most likely grow up feeling part of some one else’s intimate world.

In contrast there was a Japanese father and his son sitting just two passengers off to the side of the French woman and her baby. The father sat there dour and immovable, arms crossed, with a huge frown sagging the corners of his face, while the boy hunched and stared out the window. Whenever the boy slouched or moved to another position the father would reach out and arm him back into position, while sternly muttering, “Sit up straight. People are watching you!” My eyes traveled back and forth between these two and the French woman and baby, and exhausted as I was, I always found myself turning back to the French woman. She made me smile.

As the train ran through a gauntlet of cherry trees I closed my eyes and welcomed this delightful introduction to new life. I felt a stirring of laughter in my breast.

11 Responses

  1. Isn’t it crazy how the smallest of things can change or complete your day for the better. I’m glad you found comfort and the stress stuff, it’s easy for me to say as an outsider but truly were you able to control any of what happened, and the typical answer is no, then that leads to “well is it worth the worry?”..at least the part you could control went well..Great news! I do understand the frustration though and empathasise.

  2. Ah come on Miguel, you don’t fool me.
    The French woman was just a heck of a lot cuter than the Japanese man. *wink*

  3. Ah, that she was! I think I was in love!

  4. > slow motion counter strike by a peace-loving anti-terrorism contingent

    Perfect, just perfect :-)

  5. BTW, I would have fallen for the French lady too.

  6. Exquisite photos and wonderful musings. Hope you are feeling less stressed. It’s miraculous how the sacred ordinary can sometimes shift our entire perception of things.

  7. how are you? thank you for mentioning barbara kingsolver’s book, small wonder. i borrowed the audio book and wow. thanks.

  8. It’s always good to hear that you’re finding joy in life, regardless of the insanity that may be going on around you.

  9. The contemplation of beauty in nature and a loving mother and son ( they sound like great works of art!) is truly good for the soul! Glad for you and thanks for sharing!

  10. I wonder how differently life will turn out for those two little boys? You’ve left me imagining their futures.

    I’ve been reading for some time now and enjoy how skillfully you capture these everyday scenes.

    I miss your pictures. They show up blank on my new computer system. :(

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