[from A Certain Distance, 6]
More and more now when I look in the mirror I see my father’s face. It seems the resemblance increases as I grow older. The first time I noticed this it came as a shock. Resemblance is one thing, but it was as if a different person, something wholly other, was staring back at me from the reflection.
Starting a few years back I began to feel the need to retrace my steps, to go back to the places I inhabited during earlier times of my life in hopes perhaps of reliving those times, or if not, at least to reflect on my life and who I am, who I’ve become. And I was curious what some parts of town looked like now in the 1960s compared to what they were long ago.
Recently I found myself walking along the Meguro River not far from the area where I lived for a short time in the mid-1920s. It was January and the winter cold was accentuated by the gray stillness and the barren branches of the cherry trees lining the river’s banks, now covered in concrete to prevent flooding. At some points the concrete retaining wall was so imposing it produced the feeling of a prison, some kind of limiting authority from which the viewer instinctively recoils, and added to the depressing atmosphere of the overcast day. Only the shape of a stairway installed for maintenance removed some of the drabness from the image, drawing a diagonal line along the concrete face like one of those Escher prints which create a sort of optical illusion.
It was getting darker as I approached Nakameguro where I roomed for a short time after leaving university. Why here I don’t know. It was across town from Asakusa and Ginza which were the real happening neighborhoods in those days and where most of my friends hung out. Perhaps it was simply because something had become available and it was cheap. It was a cramped room in a decrepit building. The ceiling sagged and mildew grew in the corners, especially in the entry. There was of course no private bath or kitchenette – refrigerators would become common only some years later in the 1930s. All it provided was a few aging tatami mats on which to sleep. The nice thing about it was it had a window that looked out onto a small interior garden where ivy and nasturtiums grew and an unidentifiable tree, possibly myrtle. The public bath and the train station were a ten-minute walk away. The narrow street adjacent to the station was lined with nagaya – flimsy wooden tenements which housed the working class and poor. The very sight of these fire traps made one think of illness, the slow wasting away of tuberculosis. Further along were the shops selling daily necessities, and restaurants serving grilled chicken or fish. There were a few bars located under the tracks on the other side of the station and on a street corner was the post office. Not much here to elicit feelings of nostalgia one might think, but in fact, this was the site of my sexual awakening. In a way it’s a funny story. You see, I was seduced by the postwoman, who delivered to me something I had never experienced before.