Sunday, May 24, 2009


Should you ever find yourself at Shin-Yokohama station, you'll have two ticket gates to choose from in order to exit the building. Coming up the stairs, turning left will take you to the larger, swankier, busier bullet-train platform that most of the commuting hordes are heading towards. Coming up the stairs, turning right will lead you to the smaller gate that leads towards my apartment. Not many people are headed towards this gate, but it's where I end up each and every day.

Me, and the mourners, and the lovers.

The building kitty-corner to my own, more or less, is a funeral parlor. A Japanese kind . A Buddhist kind. I'm guessing. For weeks after I first moved in last semester, as I left my apartment for the five-minute walk to the station, I would often notice large groups of men and women, usually older, almost always solemn, filing towards this building wearing blacks suits and even blacker dresses. It looks like an ordinary office building, but occasionally a siren will sound, and a hearse will slowly emerge from the underground parking garage (can a hearse even go fast?) and a serious-looking man will halt traffic as a group of mourners bow deeply, almost the ground, as if they're looking for lost change, until the car has rounded the corner and continued on its way. If I'm near the building at around this time, I'm forced to stop. And watch. Death, in all its mundane, every-day anti-glory.

That's what happens if I turn right out of my building.

If I turn left, however, and mosey up the streets a little ways towards the Family Mart convenience store, I'm confronted by two or three 'love hotels', which are designed for, well, you can guess. Japanese folks often live with their families, or even extended families, so intimacy is difficult, if not impossible. To fill the gap, love hotels blanket the urban cityscape. They often look like little castles. Other times they look like, well, nothing known to modern architecture. One down the road is named, in English, 'Hotel Chapel Coconuts', and has a vaguely jungle theme, with a billboard adorned in monkeys, and tiki-lamps sprouting real, full flames, and outside TV monitors endlessly replaying what looks like Malaysian dancers bopping to their foreign, supposedly romantic, beat. (I haven't figured out where the 'chapel' part comes into play.)

Some nights after work, heading home, softly whistling under the Japanese moon that is identical to the Canadian, Cambodian and Philippines moons I'm intimitately familiar with, I imagine a couple entering one of those love hotels. Fresh, smiling, the man carrying the plastic bags full of beer and instant noodles they've purchased moments before at the 7-11. Ready for action, so sto speak. Nine months later they have a child. The man gets a job near Shin-Yokohama station, so they decide to settle in the area. The child grows up here, goes to school here, finds a job here. Fifty years later, he suffers a heart attack at home while watching the Tokyo Giants defeat the Hiroshima Carp on TV. He is given a funeral at the funeral home around the corner from where he was conceived. His life has ended where it begun.

There is an odd kind of symmetry to this morbid fantasy. Life and death, conception and extinction, forming an inevitable loop against our collective will. Not likely that such a scenario could play itself out, but it also wasn't likely that John Ritter could have been born in the same hospital that he died in, and that happened, so I suppose something like this could, too.

Whenever I have such morbid, oddly comforting notions such as this, something absurd will spring me back to the sunshine of reality. Just yesterday, while walking past the east exit of the bullet train platform at the station, I noticed a middle-aged black man with a young Japanese female on his arm, accompanied by an elderly Japanese couple. The black man smiled and nodded at someone looking at him. His Japanese admirer smiled back. Why would he nod at a stranger, I wondered? As he got closer towards me, I realized that I recognized him, one of the most famous foreigners in Japan, and he was wearing a black shirt that read TEAM BILLY on the back.

So whenever I'm thinking too much of life and death, birth and survival, turning left and turning right, I accidentally run into Billy Blanks, inventor of Tae-Bo, and I'm reminded, again, that the cosmos have, if not a sense of humor, at least a sense of proportion.