My House in Japan
2006 January 13 Friday (New Zealand time).
This picture, surely a candidate for the Worst Ever Snapshot Competition, shows my house in Japan. That is to say, the house that I will be returning to, very shortly, after an absence of more than a year, a year spent undergoing treatment from cancer and then convalescing in the aftermath of treatment.
I can't go back and shoot a better version of this photo for the simple reason that a house has been constructed in the middle of the picture, to the left of the utility pole.
Even so, you can still see Mount Fuji from the upper story of our house, which stands high on a steep hillside in the city of Yokohama, a little south of Tokyo, on the island of Honshu, in the nation of Japan.
What's hard to credit, after more than a year spent in exile in New Zealand, living with my parents, is that not only is there a house waiting for me in Japan, but a wife also. And a daughter.
It's like one of these alternative reality stories, where there's a door that you open, and you go through it, and it's a different world, a completely changed reality, completely different from this one.
The photo shows the house, the utility pole angling across the frontage. The big slab of white in front is the concrete of the street-level garage on top of which the house is built. No car in the garage, but there is forty liters of water, waiting for the time when the big earthquake comes.
The house is a proper house, not television spacious, but perfectly livable. Downstairs, a kitchen, a bathroom, a toilet, a master bedroom in traditional Japanese style complete with tatami mats and paper windows (glass windows outside the paper windows, and sliding metal shutters outside the glass windows) and a living room.
The living room opens through French doors onto the front garden. Take the kind of longjumping pit you might see at an athletics meet then double it, and that's about the size of the garden.
A couple of months back, my wife went out through the French doors to hang out laundry, and my daughter Cornucopia, then about eighteen months of age, very cleverly manipulated the door catch and locked her mother out.
So my wife was stuck outside, as she had neglected to bring her key with her.
You can scramble over a fence and get from the garden to the stairs which lead down to the street level, but escape was not the issue. Getting back inside the house was.
My wife asked Cornucopia, very nicely, to please open the door. And, in a demonstration of intelligence, my daughter did.
In the photo, the garden is located where the band of darkness above the white of the concrete garage is seen.
Up above that are the balconies for two of the three upstairs bedrooms.
One of the two rooms with a balcony is my wife's personal room, where she has her hugely expensive massage chair. Another functions for the moment as the guest room, and is where my Japanese mother-in-law stays if she comes to visit. It is also the room where our high-speed connection to the Internet service offered by our local cable TV terminates.
I set up a wi-fi system, which is encrypted so snoopers can't make sense of what you're doing on the Internet, so we can sit downstairs at the dining table and type away, wirelessly. That, so far, has been the toughest test yet of my fairly primitive Japanese language skills: figuring out the approximate meaning of the Japanese-language manuals I needed to make sense of in order to get the wi-fi system up and running.
It is the destiny of this bedroom to become my daughter's once she is old enough to need a bedroom of her own.
Two of the upstairs bedrooms have balconies, then, one of these rooms being my wife's personal room, and the other being destined to serve as my daughter's bedroom.
The third upstairs bedroom is fairly small, big enough for a mattress and a desk and not much more, and it is my personal room.
Once I get back there, I probably won't be able to find anything, because my wife tidied up in my absence, claiming to have removed "mountains" of dust. She probably did.
My personal room is furnished with a big heavy table that I bought cheap from the local junk shop, which gets rid of stuff on behalf of a house removal company which disposes of unwanted furniture and the like which customers want to get rid of when they move.
The junkshop prices are so good that they're almost the same as getting stuff for free. So, after we moved into the house, back a few years, when it was new, I bought my table, the dining table, the dining room chairs, two armchairs and a huge TV from the junkshop.
I finally stopped buying stuff when we ran out of room for any more furniture.
I find myself, these days, as the time for my return to Japan draws near, trying to remember how things are in the house. But some things I quite simply can't remember.
Where do we keep the breakfast cereal, for example? I have no idea.
My wife wrote me recently that the shop where we used to buy Ceylon tea in unbranded plastic bags has gone out of business, so now we are buying a new brand. What brand I don't know. I'll find out when I get there.
I suppose it will sound ridiculous to say that I was upset to learn that the small and inconsequential shop near the Shibuya railway station where I used to buy Ceylon tea has gone out of business. But it did upset me. It's a reminder that things will have changed in the year and more in which I've been away, and I'm going back to a world which I cannot entirely predict.
Well, you cannot go back to the world in which you used to live, because that world no longer exists.
That's something which has really come home to me recently as I've been editing my way through the poems I've chosen for my ARC OF LIGHT collection, a collection of sixty poems that I will be publishing really soon now. In many cases, these poems are souvenirs of a world which, really, no longer exists.
To close out my account of the house photo, the structure looming behind the house is an apartment block, which is perched up near the top of the steep ridge on which our house stands.
The road up to the house from the station is steep and a little complicated. And, in the closing stages of 2004, when the effects of brain cancer were starting to make themselves felt, a few times I got lost coming home at night.
That is an extremely freaky experience, getting lost coming home to your own house.
But, when I go back to Japan, I will be arriving by daylight.
I have never before bothered about what time my plane gets in. Any time will do.
But, while I was in hospital, in the very early stages of treatment after the diagnosis of cancer had been made, I comforted myself by imagining myself arriving at Narita early in the morning, and traveling by bus to the main station at Yokohama, then getting the train to our home station and walking up the hill to the house, arriving while it was still morning.
And, when the time came to book my ticket, I realized that this dream was perfectly doable. You just have to ask for a flight which will get in early in the morning and you will get one.
So there it is.
After my long exile from what I have come to think of as "real life", I am going home. I will step through the door that leads to one of the alternative reality realms which lies beyond the boundaries of the cancer ward, and there will be a house waiting for me, and a woman who is my wife, and a child who is my daughter.
I am not exactly counting the days yet. I am too busy with the final work on the ARC OF LIGHT collection, which I want to finish and upload in the closing window of opportunity which is available to me, before my renewed responsibilities start to dominate my timetable.
But, when I do pause to count the days, I find that I will be getting on the plane just twelve days from now. And flying off to a new reality. A new beginning.