Penny and I left for Japan on June 25, 2002, via Chicago. There was heat wave in Chicago and stepping off our little Air Canada CJ onto the tarmac, was like walking into an oven. I recall seeing a discarded paper sign lying on the broiling gray pavement. It read “Human Remains.” I hope they were refrigerated.
We got out of Chicago in a crowded United Airlines 747 jumbo jet filled with hundreds of people just like us, the jet setting poor. The flight was long and uneventful and we got into Narita the next afternoon. I was expecting Narita to be a giant complex, but our little part of it, whatever terminal it was, seemed quite small, like Halifax. We picked up our luggage, went through perfunctory customs inspection and walked out the door to a waiting hotel bus.
I was struck while driving into Tokyo by how British everything looked, manicured hedges, slightly exotic plants, small cars. What astonished me however, beyond the urban sprawl, were the canals. I didn’t know Tokyo had canals.
We stayed at the Marrod Inn in Akasaka near the Aoyama Dori. The first night in Tokyo was dreadful. We were horribly jet lagged and further disoriented by the fact Japan doesn’t observe daylight savings time. I sat up most of the short night listening to American Armed Forces Radio, then watched the morning show on NHK which featured a cam broadcasting trains arriving at Tokyo station commented on by two talking heads who were bowing a lot I suppose to the viewing audience as they tuned in.
Penny and I later went to breakfast in the Marrod’s dinning room where we made the terrible mistake of ordering the western breakfast, a plate concocted of a pink cocktail sausage, a lonely piece of lettuce a foamy square of scrambled eggs and a cup of undrinkable black coffee. All our subsequent breakfasts at the Marrod were the Japanese type, sublime concoctions of Kombu soup, tofu, dried fish, steamed rice and pots of refreshing smoky green tea.
Still in shock, we went the Canadian embassy where we were introduced around and met the show preparator a young artist named Seiji Takashita. Seiji and I laid out the pictures. He was very efficient and spoke English well. Once we got the set up sketched, Seiji politely told me to get lost and enjoy myself in Tokyo, he’d do the rest. I could check in a few hours before the opening to fine-tune the lighting if necessary.
So, as if in a dream, Penny and I hit the unnamed streets of Tokyo, where for the next two days we walked miles and miles in the heat and drizzle, seeing what could be seen before going up island to Matsushima.
We chose to go to Matsushima as a getaway trip because the World Cup of Soccer was playing in Japan and our first choice, Kyoto, would be too crowded. Even in Tokyo the ugly foreign element was visible, particularly loutish Australians prowling the tourist sights.
One site stands out in particular in our wanderings around Tokyo, the very strange Aoyama graveyard. Later they told us we missed the beauty of the place because the cherry blossoms had fallen, but Aoyama graveyard with its ravens, feral cats, yew trees and peculiar monuments with Chinese carvings still sits heavily on my mind, a place out of time in the madness of Tokyo. No temple, even the most ancient and blood soaked temple, as they often are in Japan, can match Aoyama graveyard for sheer accumulated gloom.