“So often in my life I’ve been with people and shared beautiful moments like travelling or staying up all night and watching the sunrise, and I knew it was a special moment, but something was always wrong. I wished I’d been with someone else. I knew that what I was feeling – exactly what was so important to me – they didn’t understand.”
Exactly three weeks ago I was in Japan. Somewhere between the chaos of Hakata and Tenjin. A small fly in the Fukuoka prefecture.
For years, ever since OP set his first steps in Japan and gloated over all and everything in Japan; the people, the weird language, rampant sex shops and clean streets- I cannot count the times I have involuntarily said “please bring me to Japan”. This mantra became more frequently chanted since I graduated. Immensely so during my worst times where stress was slapping me left and right, up and down, over my pending research.
Somewhere before Christmas, with my period imminent, I was in OP’s place when I couldn’t stop saying that I wanted to go to Japan. He brought me to dinner, to Encore, bought me ice cream but I wouldn’t stop. We went home, opened the laptop and he got both of us a two way flight to Fukuoka, Japan. He slammed the laptop shut looked at me and said -“there’s no where else best to inhale Japan other than Fukuoka, trust me”.
And that I did. The rest was history. One month of waiting, planning and anticipating. I have travelled to places with so many other than family. But something was always wrong. Off in ways I can’t put my finger on. This time-the pieces fit. It felt amazing!
Japan is a little cosy memory between the two of us and I refuse to share with anybody. Our little “you remember when”s that no one else will have, a little world that existed between just the two of us.
Life is hard. It’s supposed to be. If we didn’t suffer, we‘d never learn anything.
The thing about Fukuoka was that it wasn’t a place tourist would swarm to. Only a handful places that appeared on Google were booming with tourist. I was lucky to be with someone who encouraged me to look behind what google told. Look at the alleys. Look at how the gravel looks weird. Look at the sands, they dance through your finger. We walked the entire of Hakata and Tenjin. Everywhere was basically a train’s ride away. We walked for 1,2, heck, sometimes 3 kilometers. As much as my feet were killing me, I couldn’t feel so much as the cold piercing through my face, slicing with the wind, cracking my lips as I tried to smile but oh, what a beautiful pain that was, I wouldn’t mind going through that again.
Trying to share everything that happened feels like a foul. I don’t want to. But some places that we went to, shared companionship in… those places were almost novel.
“I feel like if someone were to touch me, I’d dissolve into molecules.”
I remember our first proper meal in japan- Mc Donald’s. I made it a point to try McDonald’s in every city I go to. They differ- the menus are set to fit the culture and their lifestyle. This one in particular was amazing. The Japanese made a burger out of everything. There was a shrimp burger, fish burger, chicken teriyaki which was the best of any I’ve had. Their chocolate pie was to die for in the freezing cold. The way the velvety goodness melted on my tongue, the crepe so crunchy it crumbled onto my lap. They even had salad bowls! Most importantly, they had single seating where each chairs were individual, facing the window which was frosted from the cold in one part and condensed from the heat within at another. Most people preferred and actually did come alone, their set of meals before them and a book in had, so deeply buried within they might actually burn a hole in it and I wouldn’t question a single thing. Introverts, the Japanese welcome you!
And we walked and walked the whole day. I wanted to do a whole lot of shopping but OP disagreed, recommending the shopping to be on the last day so I sulked for half the day being denied my guilty pleasure only to realise later on that he was right the whole time. I wouldn’t be able to control my spending and no emergency is predictable so it’s always best to have extra instead of having it spent right away. That’s why, a reliable traveling partner is crucial. When your judgement is clouded, have someone who can guide you through the clouds.
Night dawned and we walked through alleys facing the sunset, watching the Japanese lanterns in red and white with fish patterns come to live, giving life to a once dead street. Japanese sunsets, oh god, they’re something else. They smell- like dried winter leaves, post work hours sweat and the crisp winter air.
It turned dark soon enough. The air got colder to more reason to cuddle closer. We watched people switch from mundane black suits to winter clothing to protect themselves against the cold, seek shelter in sake vendors- the yatai- and confide in alcohol. Alcohol seemed to everybody’s best friend. It is used as mediators for business matter, rendezvous between new and old friends and a tease play between two lovers. It made us want it too but we settled for beers for the walk home was long and stretched.
We crossed bridges, watched cars pass us, revered how OP seemed to do a mental check on foreign cars that he knew: the hatchbacks, the coupes, the Nissans. His love for cars are sometimes so overwhelming I think he’d choose cars over me. But that also makes me fall in love a little bit more every time he shows me how passionate he is about things that he shares interest in.
Waking up in Japan is probably my most favorite moment thus far. Almost always, the alarms seemed to fail us. In lieu, the cold gives a harsh wake up; the way it seemed to creep on the skin of my leg that escaped the duvets. I’d have two, three layers on since the night before and it still didn’t help with the cold. Before OP wakes up, I’d take a hard and long look around, just feeling blessed to have been able to experience this.
The window was to my left, frosted that it confused me if that was just distorted glass or was it just the cold. It made me want to reach my hands out and draw a silly little heart on it but I’d decide against it because it was always too cold outside the duvets to handle. The potted plant- what plant was it again? I can’t remember- seemed to give such a feeling of swelling belonging like it was our small little home. It barely fit more than two spanned hand to hand, but it was our cosy little home.
I’d try to guess if it’s raining or vice versa and give a hard guess at the temperature that day. I’d guess as high as I can imagine to trick my mind into waking up but most of the time, OP would have woken up by then and he’d be kind enough to put the first step on the floor that usually feels like it’s zero degrees and run us both a hot sweltering bath. I’d run to the bathroom so as to reduce contact time between my feet and the floor but I’d be shivering by the time I reach the shower. The water would be so hot that it wouldn’t be enough but our skin would be screaming at the heat that was getting it burned.
We’d get ready- I’d watch OP get on with his last touches: scarf once around his thick neck, jacket, gloves tucked deep into his pockets (which he would fish out as soon as we leave the house because we’re never really prepared for the cold), dap- dap on the hair lacking in hair gel (damn you flight regulations), hurry me through my make up of the day, pull socks up both his feet and scurry to the patio to wear his shoes. It the same all the time I’ve had it memorized but I loved watching him every time.
He’d open the door and I’d feel the cold cruel breeze bite my nose first then the rest of my face. My hand would freeze into a prune that I would need my gloves too and my thighs felt like it was lying on a bed of the smallest nails possible. But somehow, we always smiled and grew into it a little more everyday.
We took then train to a road untraveled- Roppommatsu- which happens to be the first place OP ever came to in Fukuoka two years back. He smiled every time he talked about the science museum where he had his workshops in two years back. We walked and walked into a magic that is Ohori Park. To this day that place just feels unreal.
I remember getting winter melon tiramisu pastry and a perfect cinnamon croissant to go with a set of sushi that we bought off the Yanagibashi market. Hand in hand, we walked the long and windy but narrow roads, passing so many who were busy getting their fresh bouquet of flowers for breakfast or perhaps rushing to work. The narrow walkway opened to a world that amazed me; Ohori Park spanned at least 2km wide, anointed in all the colours of fall but smelling like the earthy fragrance after a heavy shower. The wind seemed to get heavier and stronger as we made our way in but I was getting more sun that I have during all my previous days combined. It was cold but the sun was also kissing me so sweetly on my face that I didn’t mind the wind at all. Suddenly I forgot it was winter because everything screamed fall!
The birds were friendly that they didn’t scare me, the ducks had somewhat an iridescent color as it submerged into the water, emerging brand new, a fresh start. The pigeons (or was it some other bird, I can’t recall) flock in a huge party towards the hem of the lake where aunties were stretching out their palms filled with food, despite the clear warning not to. And we walked to a few other temples that gave me a sense of cleanse. The air is just different- in the temples, in the parks, in their malls.
“It’s just like our life, we appear and we disappear. We are so important to some, but we are just… passing through.“
By this time, I’m sensing a strange fear swelling up in my chest. The end is almost there I can feel it, so palpable but shy of my reach. It was a gloomy day, so naturally the temperature hiked up a notch. We made an impulsive trip to the TeamLab exhibition without prior booking. The air sliced through the insides of my nose as I inhaled, slowly followed by trickling of harmless runny mucous. I wanted to stick close to OP. That particular weather gave out mists as we spoke but snow was absent, but it could have. Rain started to pour, little water art on our winter jackets. I soon came to realise mine wasn’t water proof so we tried to seek shelter as much as we could. Tried to follow pigs and flowers virtually into a world so unfamiliar. Drew ourselves and allowed Japanese technology to transform us into animations from a rigid paper scribbled with crayons.
Ran in between eggs if changing colours, kissed between cold walls that we had to push through, ending up getting more wet than ever. Stepped on wet pebbles and felt just at home in their little tents for drawing workshops. Catching the most beautiful skyline of Fukuoka, watching it reflect unto the face I hold so dear, a brilliant smile for me.
We walked back home with extremely sore feet, drained out energy level but as we strolled along the Japanese roadsides clenching in cold, I found myself uttering the words: “look I’m happy. I’m with the person I love the most in the country I wanted to be in the most, basking in the most perfect night, as the smell of earth post-rain blankets us- I couldn’t imagine a life any perfect than this moment right now”. And I turned to catch the most beautiful smirk from my love.
“But sometimes, I don’t know? I feel like you’re breathing helium and I’m breathing oxygen.“
Two places in Fukuoka transports you to a completely different dimension but a parallel universe. It brings you back in time but tells you stories before urbanization happened. It’s a perfect mixture of religion and suburban culture.
Nanzoin was like the 1950s. Even their train station was all woods, had no automated ticket machine and was operated by a shriveled old man that never failed to smile and wished you well on your way. It was so richly green that the oxygen felt healing. We felt an urge to hike, to travel the path less explored even if that meant it got our shoes dirty. Tried to go as high as the path permitted and tried to build an appetite to a traditional restaurant to fulfill my soba cravings but unfortunately, the restaurants were scarce and we decided to settle with family mart pre-packed meals- which is nonetheless scrumptious by the way!
Dazaifu on the other hand was another town weirdly different but still the same old. We got down at a station which was about a couple kilometers further from where we were supposed to so the walk was long cutting through their townhouses which felt more outskirt than the ones you’d find in mainland fukuoka. The houses had a sempia tone to it, crawlers on their walls and flowers blooming to its full heart. It was still ridiculously cold but I wanted to stay there forever. I had a smile on my face the entire time, the kind that you know comes from pure bliss and reached your heart. I never really was happy with anyone else all this while.
That’s a real, happy and content smile.
Again, we tried to explore places that many people never took to, wet and muddy, dancing to the taps of raindrops that started carrying the size of cats and dogs but we didn’t care even if we were wet. The smell of wet leaves- oh! And the sound of running creeks, too cold to have tested with your fingers but I can almost taste the freshness on my tongue. The foliage bent and shaped to the shape of our feet, following the pressure of our weight, certain we’re leaving a part of us here.
Tried my best to find a four-leaved clover but getting fives instead. Stood on wet rocks and feeling the feeble sunray in a rainy day escape the breaks in the leaves. Drinking it all in. It reminded me a little of twilight. The little rainy town where Edward and Bella found love. I always wondered how it felt to be in a wet and cold place but to love it all a little too much. I finally figured that out.
Watching people (who are probably used to the rain and cold) still shiver, globe and scarf up, but still be able to walk to their destinations. Making me wonder how is their lives here in this part of the world? While I sip my hot chocolate from Starbucks that felt like smooth goodness running down my frozen pipe, unfreezing it all at once into function.
Feeling the cloud weigh down in us, squeezing the pressure of stress out. But ultimately, hearing OP fantasize about how nice it’ll be to hike to the top of that mountain. In the terrible cold and heavy wet. He’d set up a camp there and watch the animals all day long. Roast up some food and drink creek water for a few days before descending. Responding to nature calls by the nearest river with no hot water and just hiking for days long. He says it with so much happiness it breaks my heart to say that I would not survive such place but for him, I’d give a try even if it costs not having cold water splashed to my genitals after a pee-pee or a poo-poo.
“Isn’t everything we do in life a way to be loved a little more?“
But here’s what- watch me say again and again that every moment is my favorite and change my mind as I write the next few scenes. But I assure you, this has got to be something I never get enough of during my time in Japan.
The run to the bakery.
We’d stop by some station about a couple of stops away and walk for like 10 minutes before we come to an old beaten house than looks like it’s been a few decades old. Occasionally there’ll be a queue but mostly leisure into a quaint little bakery that bakes the most perfect chocolate bun, strawberry parfaít and the most crumbling croissant. We’d also come to find out they have the most perfect loaf of wheat bread freshly out of the oven, crunchy like the heavens on its crust and the softest insides like a baby’s rump.
And to the right of the entrance to the bakery, s small handwritten chalkboard directs you into the a dense alley that leads to the best coffee shop in the city: coffeeman. The owner is a champion of a coffee roasting competition so their selection of coffee varies according to region, density and preference whether you like it drip, milked or raw.
I remember this day very well. We didn’t have much planned. We just wanted to drag our last morning doing exactly this. Coffee and pastry. It was raining again, the windows were tinted with frost but the heat within the coffee shop made it possible to shrug off our winter jackets, kick our feet back, relax and trace each other’s faces with our eyes. We were so close I could have sneaked a kiss. But I loved watching OP devour his macchiato slowly, with the grace of an old man’s soul.
With more pastries to-go and our steaming hot coffee to warm our frozen fingers, we made our way to Momochi seaside beach. My ultimate fear. I fear the sea but I can at least take a dip in the beach if I managed to coerce myself into forgetting. But this seaside wasn’t so kind to help me forget my fears. It was rough, hard and fierce- splashing salty water on us as we inched forward to the platform. I soon enough got over my fears, for a few pictures taken and played around for a few before we decided the cold was too much to bear and we wanted to go to the city for last minute shopping.
Like I always say: run with the wolves. Even if the ocean scares you.
Japan will now and always be a precious memory to OP and I. We love the country. We love the people. Most of all, we love the alter-life we’ve believed to have built there.