[from A Certain Distance, 7]
I searched for the area where I used to live. It was just off Yamatedori, the main boulevard, one of the major arteries following along what had once been the outer edge of the old castle town of Edo. I no longer remembered the address, but I knew it was in the 3-chome section. The destruction wrought by the bombing of Tokyo during WWII was so total that in some areas, such as the old working class Shitamachi district by the Sumida River, there were neighborhoods that were wiped permanently off the map. The names of the places have disappeared forever along with the nameless people who once inhabited them. It was already years since I had lived there, but my old neighborhood in Nakameguro took a hit as well. So I didn’t expect any buildings to have survived. I just wanted to see how the area had changed.
I followed the maze of narrow streets winding through the neighborhood which was now 3-chome, but it was impossible to identify the spot where my rooming house once stood. Many of the streets merely ran into dead-ends, or circled around so that I would finally end up where I began. The labyrinth of postwar rebuilding was so complex it was impossible to navigate.
Her name was Akemi. I hadn’t noticed her because the post office uniforms were so drab, designed in a way so as to hide virtually any suggestion of feminine beauty. But apparently she had noticed me. I dropped by the post office fairly regularly then to send letters and packages to a friend who was studying in Paris. The letters written out carefully in black ink with a fountain pen spelling out the foreign address piqued her interest. Words in French and English were very popular in those days. You’d find them popping up all over the place, not only in names of cafes and advertising, but even in the new poetry that was all the rage. Using foreign words was hip and modern.
I don’t remember exactly how it all got started now. I never would have been able to initiate a conversation myself. In the 1920s there was a sudden surge in the number of young women on their own in the big city. Not something one would have seen during the previous generation. People were leaving the country for Tokyo in search of work and there was a huge population of young people who were far from home, unattached, like immigrants in their own country.