Japan near and far. Natsukashii

I spent today in Japan Town, a small area of San Francisco with a good grocery store, an even better dollar-fifty store, and as much matcha iisukuremu as a person can eat. Walking down Webster Dori and the (unusually for SF) clean and neat streets, devoid of feces and trash, I felt suddenly nostalgic for Tokyo, there is a word for it in Japanese, natsukashii. Japanese, as usual, refuses to be directly translated, their nostalgia has hints of yearning, a sprinkle of desire to return. I have no desire to return, yet nostalgic I remained. I used to wonder if the word was derived from the word for summer (natsu…a different natsu, apparently), painting a feeling of desiring to return to a warmer, happier, sunnier time. Apparently it doesn’t, but still I think of it as meaning yearning for summer even as you find yourself in the dead of winter.

I was natsukashii for August in Tokyo with my two small children, I was yearning for the wet heat that soaks you to the skin the second you venture outside, a heat that is both relentless at night and unforgiving in the day. I remembered another day, a little like today, walking to a Seiyu store, a short distance from my apartment. The children were quite quite small, one in a stroller, the other holding onto it’s frame as instructed. Big dogs. Fast cars. Dangerous men. These were the reasons for holding on tightly. We ducked into stores and doorways, the sun was as hot as I have ever felt. I could feel my skin burning, the sweat running down my back. The sun beat down on us without mercy. The children were fine. I was a puddle of panicked heat exhausted desolation. A strange time to be nostalgic for, I know. But what happened next was so beautiful, so perfect, so unusual, that it made the furnace seem desirable. We trotted through Seiyu’s doors, throwing bottles of nachan orange drink into the basket, salty lychee drinks frozen from the cooler that melt as soon as you take them outside. I picked up spinach and lentils, thinly sliced pork for Mr. Charming, and small pink ginger roots that sat bathing in iced water, counting the metal coins in my purse and worrying if there would be enough at the checkout to buy the things we needed. The drinks were not luxury, I was not going outside without a block of frozen liquid to hold onto my neck and try and make it back to the air-conditioning alive. I was dreading going back outside. Taking a last breath of air conditioned recycled air, we walked back outside. That was when it happened.

A fine mist started falling from the sky, the blue barely marred by clouds. It was not wet enough to be truly called a rain, nor fine enough to ignore. It was manna from heaven. It fell like a dew, a cooling balm, a perfect delicate curtain of precipitation. We stopped. Everyone stopped. Everyone on the street stopped and looked, some held their hands, palm upwards to the sky. We beheld mercy.

There was no summer downpour, no typhoon buckets of drenching rain that often fall at that time of year. Just the cooling mist. The children giggled, and wondered, and we crossed the road back past the small greengrocers, and the piano tuning business, past the Lawsons, and the am/pms and the Family Marts. We walked talking about rain, and happy things, and there was laughter. There was each other. We were our little unit of three. And it was perfect.

Nothing ever stays frozen in time. If I could I would bottle it, I would wear the scent of fine mist on a Tokyo afternoon in July. I would listen to the faint chatter of my children, and the hum of the city in the heat of summer. I would call it Natsukashii.

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