Spring has sneaked into Tokyo while I was not paying attention. Today was hot, sticky-sock-June hot, the first time this year I have sought tree cover from the sun.
This morning, I said goodbye to my electric blanket, cheerfully stuffing it under my bed. I wasn`t the only one. While boiling the kettle in the kitchen, a girl from Yamagata told me she had done the same. She then taught me a useful word, taoruketto – a cross between a towel and a blanket, it is popular bedding for the hot months.
After 4 flasks of tea, I strolled down to Inokashira Park for a couple of hours of living vicariously. I began gently, bunting a baseball with the 7 year olds; then I boarded a swanboat with my girlfriend and pedalled her around the lake; I dashed off a quick watercolour of the early blooming cherry blossoms, then retired to an empty bench to grow dreadlocks and play the violin. It was a nice day.
Plenty of foreigners were roaming the park. Foreigners require special treatment. I usually aim for hearing distance, but never talking distance. I like to hear the sounds of home.
Under the cherry blossoms, I heard German. By the swings, I heard North American. Then along the footpath came two Aussies.
There was not an echo of Devon anywhere.
Tokyo has long been the home of hyojungo, standard Japanese. Immigrants from rural Japan can struggle with it.
In 1902, a 16-year-old middle school dropout called Takuboku Ishikawa moved to Tokyo from the green hills of Iwate, the Devon of north Japan. Whilst in Tokyo, Ishikawa wrote a tanka, a short poem about his nostalgia for the sounds of home.
The heartwarming accent of home
Amongst the crowds at the station
I go listening for it
Trying to support both his family and his own fragile body in Tokyo was too much for Ishikawa. He died at 26. His translated diary and tanka collection, reviewed here, makes for a startling read.
Warm memories of life in Devon still swill around my mind, appearing at unexpected moments. There were a few today. A 7-year-old pitching a baseball wearing a sky blue shirt emblazoned with Etihad reminded me of my Man City-mad Dad screaming at the TV. Trying to take an absurdly ambitious photo with a zoom lens, I heard my eldest brother gently mocking me. I laughed, and put the camera away.
I bought a paper cup of takeaway coffee and sat by the lake. On the next bench, a white face, covered with ginger beard and topped with a sky blue bandana was talking about the Fukushima nuclear disaster. He seemed to be practicing a speech with a Japanese friend.
All the words were Japanese, but his accent sounded thousands of miles away. It could easily have been from Devon. Or possibly Moldova. It doesn`t matter. To my ears, his Japanese, like mine, had a Devon lilt. That was as good as I could hope for in a packed Inokashira Park today.