NOTES IN A JAPANESE NOTEBOOK
ROBERT WALLACE PAOLINELLI
I am a dreamer: What could be more antithetical in a materialistic society than a dreamer, a poet, who would much rather sit on a stone bench in the mild sun and write words no one will ever read? Once again I have purchased a small Japanese notebook at the Kinokuniya Stationery & Gift Shop in Japantown. Two years ago I bought a similar notebook, on a dreary, rainy day and sat in the Tan-Tan coffee shop and wrote. But there is now a no smoking policy at the Tan-Tan, so I am outside, under this warm, blessing sun smoking and writing. The poet is ever the fool because he is impractical. Being unemployed, I should be out looking for a job. But I prefer to sit and pretend I am a rich man, a man of leisure, a man of letters, a man freed from the mundane care of the work-a-day world. Why not? Working is a curse for one such as myself. I deserve the beauty and freedom of this March day, St Patrick's Day. It is said that St. Patrick drove out all of the snakes in Ireland. I don't know if that's so; so much about St. Patrick is legend. Nevertheless, in the spirit of the saint, I now drive out all snakes, devils, demons, and unwholesome spirits, which would keep this poet in the shackles of the humdrum world of eight to five. Blessed St. Patrick, save me from jobs, bosses and the serfdom of work. Amen. I like Japantown because it is as close to Japan proper as I can get. Of all the countries I've been to, Japan left the deepest impression on me. It is unfortunate that I have not the means to travel thither and sit under the spring sun in, say, Ueno Park and write in this note book. I always remember my first morning in Japan, twenty years or so ago, I was staying at a tourist hotel by Ueno Park; I had arrived at Haneda airport sometime after midnight. By the time I cleared customs and immigration agents and got on the train to Tokyo, it was well after two a.m. Once at my hotel, I took a soothing Japanese bath. So there I was at last in bed but I could not sleep. I rolled over first on one side then the other. Jet lag. No matter how many sheep I counted, I could not sleep. I got out of bed, dressed and went for a walk; that's when I discovered Ueno Park. I remembered reading that a battle had once been fought at Ueno, a rather bloody one at that; but that particular morning there was nothing to remind one of that battle of long ago. A mist hung in the air. I didn't mind. Mists and poets are compatible. As I walked in the park with no particular thought on my mind, I heard music! I stopped and listened: It was the sound of a solo shakuhachi, a bamboo flute. I stood in place enchanted by the music of the unseen flautist. I walked in the direction of the dulcet sound. A wind sprang up and parted the mist; and there by the lake, on a large, rounded stone, sat the shakuhachi master, an old man. He turned at my approach; our eyes met; he nodded his head in recognition of my presence; I bowed my first Japanese bow to him. I always felt that that first time I participated in Japanese culture was my bow to the old shakuhachi master. That simple act of courtesy meant a great deal to me. That first bow to the flute master meant something more than merely a learned social gesture, for I truly was giving homage to the man who gave me (unknowingly) a great gift of welcome to a stranger. He played on for a few minutes more, then he stopped. I remember him putting his flute in a case, then he stepped down to the ground. He looked at me. I said to him in English, "Thank you." He smiled, said something to me in Japanese, then together we bowed a deep bow to each other. He went his way; I stayed. I sat on the rock. It was still warm from his body. I smoked a cigarette and watched the mist dissipate. Soon people were about. The magic was gone. I made my way back to my hotel and had breakfast.