A drop of golden Sundays – love and loss in a Tokyo summer

Tamagawa picnic on rocks

I am happy to report my essay A drop of golden Sundays – love and loss in a Tokyo summer, was published in the most recent issue of The Write Life Magazine, a new magazine for writers and anyone interested in the written word. The theme of the July 2013 issue is “summertime” and includes Words of Wisdom – 3 Social Media Facts All Writers Need to Know plus Writing and Happiness, as well as a recipe for strawberry daiquiri cupcakes.

Write Life LogoThis is the essay:

Is it the womb-like warmth of summer that coaxes us out of our clothes? There was certainly enough heat that Sunday in July when I climbed Mt. Mitake with Mr. Tanaka, a 70-year old retired charcoal salesman I’d met two months earlier. The two of us had returned to Mr. Tanaka’s summer rental and my need for a shower was desperate – the late July humidity had turned my flesh into a heavy, leaking sponge. After washing, and with Mr. Tanaka in the shower, I grabbed a beer, sank into a chair, and pressed the cold can against my neck. Bathed in warm fatigue and encouraged by the beer, I reached a state of deep calm and almost idiotic contentedness. My attention drifted towards the open sliding doors, which framed a view of the cable-stayed bridge that looms over the quiet town and its narrow, gorge-like river. Follow the water downstream and the river widens, its banks flattening into a floodplain crowded with baseball fields, the shores spanned by long bridges. At the base of one of these bridges, in Futako-Tamagawa, the rocky riverbank provides wild refuge for Japanese fleeing the confines of Tokyo. Shaggy-haired boys play guitar, families with half-naked children enjoy the shallow streams, and couples sit close to each other, watching the sun dance on the water. I had been one of these couples. And sitting in Mr. Tanaka’s living room, gazing out at the river, I was reminded of the glorious Sunday in May when Yumi and I sat on the water’s edge until the sun set, Mt. Fuji’s silhouette becoming drawn into relief. It was only the second time we had met, but already I knew I wanted to see her all summer.

Mr. Tanaka finished his shower and we started grilling thin strips of pork while watching Olympic judo matches on TV. The pert female telecaster reminded me of the yama garu we had seen on our hike, those so-called “mountain girls” whose interest in hiking is motivated by the colorful hiking fashions that are marketed in Japan. We had sat next to the girls at a hillside café where we got slightly drunk from two glasses of wine. We then made our descent through the tall cedars, talking more freely than we had that morning. Talking turned into joking, and joking turned into singing, starting with “Do-Re-Mi” from The Sound of Music – me in English, and Mr. Tanaka in Japanese. Was it the wine, the relief of walking downhill, or the heat that got us here? It hadn’t been long until we started belting out Motown tunes, starting with “My Girl”.

Summer changes the complexion of Tokyo. One day in July I left work and walked towards Shimbashi Station at sunset, the air still thick with midday heat, and the streets even thicker with pedestrians as the roads had been closed to traffic. In the blocks west of the station, people walked with drinks in hand, friends relaxed while sitting on sidewalk curbs, and groups sat on blankets in the road as though celebrating cherry blossom season in the park. Near the old steam train I became enthralled by a line of women in yukata robes performing the bon odori dance to the hypnotizing strains of Tokyo Ondo, the traditional song used to honor the spirits of the dead during the Buddhist Obon festival. In front of my eyes the memory of the dead became flesh via the slow, seemingly passive, yet confident movements of the dancers. While not usually impressed by ceremony, as I stood in that maddening heat, beer in hand, surrounded by thousands of revelers, I watched those dancers and became utterly grateful for living in Japan.

Near the end of summer Yumi and I were walking through Yamashita Park in Yokohama when we spotted schoolchildren performing a dance similar to bon odori. As in Shimbashi, I felt a thrill from witnessing something so traditionally Japanese. The thrill increased when Yumi told me she used to perform the same dance as a child. I told her I was impressed, but said nothing more. I wish now I had asked her to teach me the dance…to give us a beautiful memory before the end of summer… to create a moment of spontaneous joy like Mr. Tanaka and I singing “My Girl” in the forest. I’ve got sunshine on a cloudy day. When it’s cold outside I’ve got the month of May. I may not have my girl right now, but it’s currently May and I have the entire summer ahead of me; let’s hope the next time I’m showering at someone’s house it’s not a 70-year old man’s. Sorry Mr. Tanaka.



  1. […] During a hike near Ashigakubo station, I met Tanaka-san, a retired charcoal-company employee who invited me to join him for a hike near his summer cottage near Mitake-san. A few weeks later I met Tanaka-san at Kawai station 川井駅,  on the upper reaches of the Tamagawa river, where the river forms a deep gorge between the steep hills. You can read about this at a previous post,  A drop of golden Sundays – love and loss in a Tokyo summer. […]

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