March 29, 2014

An Odd Thing

It was an odd thing that happened. 

I was in Japan at the time it occurred. I was headed to workout as I remember. I belonged to a fitness club down the road in Gotanda and was living in Takanawadai, just up the road from Shinagawa, and a hop away from Sengaku-ji. This is the temple burial ground of the famous 47 Ronin, who after plotting revenge for two years, avenged their disgraced Lord Asano in 1703, bringing the severed head of his enemy, Kira, to make an offering at the temple and collectively disembowel themselves. Sengaku-ji was just down the road.

At the time, Gotanda was known for two things: Sex and "yaks." Yakuza. Japanese gangsters that gave the impression of being both everywhere and nowhere. They were those you saw in the streets handing you sex flyers and those you did not, sneering at you from dark corners. Yakuza like to sneer a lot. The crowds attracted there were always a mixed bag, from kids to the very weird. I rarely went there at night. Today, it was different. It was daytime. A simple afternoon, for this odd thing to occur.

My thoughts were the thoughts one might have on any given day. I remember nothing special about them, in fact, I do not remember them at all. Perhaps it is this fact that the following came to light. 

As I headed down the road and down the hill, making my way into Gotanda proper, I turned a corner of a building to cross the street. I had done this literally dozens of times before - it was a short cut to the gym, which lay behind a building on the other side of an upcoming road. But on this day, as I turned this corner, an odd thing happened. I stopped.

In fact, I stopped short. I stopped for a very specific reason - the back of my body had turned inexplicably hot. It was as if a large oven door had suddenly opened and its immense heat poured over me. I remember the experience quite well. From the bottom of my heels to the top of my head, I was quickly and overwhelmingly engulfed in what I can only describe as heat.

It was not a good feeling. In fact, it so distressed me, I distinctly remember my heart racing at the thought that my body may be about work against me, as when a stroke or heart attack ensues. I stood still there for several moments, confusedly contemplating what could be my own demise.

But for some reason, a reason I can think no more of today, than I did then, I turned around. And when I turned, I saw a man. A young, slim Japanese I had never seen before, and had not seen as I turned the corner this day. This young man was looking at me. No, that isn't quite right. He clearly saw me, but possibly in a way no one had ever seen me before. And when I turned and looked into his eyes, it was as though he had just awoken. When his eyes met my own, it startled him, shaking him, like he knew the jig was up. Perhaps, from his point of view, he had been "exposed."

When two strangers meet for no good reason on a street in a modern day foreign land, I suppose we all carry with us certain expectations. Mine were not met and probably his were not either, for he quickly turned and ducked around the corner. 

The movement was so strange and his demeanor so unsettled that it prompted my next action as if it had been written for me. I took several steps forward and peered ever-so slowly around the corner. And there he was, just out of reach, dry washing his hands, looking at the ground, and shaking. His body language longing for the return of anonymity my stare had clearly stolen from him.

When he saw me silently watching him from the corner, he bolted like a rabbit, running as fast as he could down the street and out of sight.

It was an odd thing.

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