I remember walking down a road with bright green poles lined up as soldiers underneath the steel awnings. I remember the way the shops spilled into the path and the way their wares enticed me with both sight and smell. I remember friendly faces, distrustful faces, and old faces. I remember signs outside of otherwise unmarked doors. “No Gaijin”.
I remember I had my bicycle, because once I passed the third Pachinko parlour, the roads were less congested and I could ride in the street to the small housing area a few miles from the Air Base. It was purple and covered with stickers sent to me by relatives State-side. Stickers of bands popular a decade before I was born.
Once the town gave way to rice paddies and forested hills, I mounted and pedaled furiously through sweet smelling air. The sunlight was almost liquid as it alternately dappled through trees and hit you full in the face. Kakashi stood alone in the fields; rotting clothing showing off more and more straw until the farmers came with new clothing for them. I remember that as I traveled that summer, the kakashi would go from muted brown and burgundy to scarlet and white.
Houses again. First one, then a group, and then an area with Poltergeist-esque cookie cutter homes. The houses were Western style, with the exception of one or two, and ugly in this place. I would dismount and walk again, heading for one of the fancier homes. It was a two story, and I was cat-sitting and house-watching while the owner’s were in Korea on vacation. I would park my bike, unlock the door, see to the cat’s needs, and then head for my favorite room.
The tatami room was on the second floor, and the owners used it to store books. I don’t think they used it otherwise. The room smelled sweet from the rice straw mats and musty from several unopened boxes of books. I would curl up and spend a few hours with vikings and spaceships, documentaries and lust-in-the-dust. Sometimes they were even all in one novel. Sometimes a cat would join me and sometimes it was just me and my mind.
The ride home was always the best. Once the cats were happy, the house locked, a new light or two left on–I could leave the ugly little area and travel back the way I came. On the way home, there was a path up one of the pine tree covered hills. I would ditch my bike at the bottom, and walk up natural steps made of tree roots. I would pass under a series of red Torii gates and past statues of the mountain Kami.
I would go from the world of the profane to that of the sacred.
I remember the fountain made of rocks. I remember washing my hands, my feet, and cleansing my mouth so that I could pray. I remember the clanging of the bells, as I rang them so that the Gods would hear me. I remember seeing the the sun glint off of the coins as the fell into the offering box and as I placed them at the feet of the two statues guarding the Shrine.
I remember kneeling in a perfect quiet, as I let my mind fly to my chosen God/dess and prepared to accept whatever was asked of me.
And then, I would ride away home.