Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Day 4.092: Ichi, ni, san, shi, ... go

While I was in Japan - before the earthquake - I wrote something about my experiences there. For various reasons it has been sitting around untouched since then.  I can't work out if it is appropriate, but I am going to post it anyway.  It maybe doesn't quite qualify for National Poetry Month, but it's not quite my normal blog post style either.

The photo is of the departure board for my to-be-earthquake-interrupted flight taken on the train from Tokyo to the airport. So cool.

Anyway, here it is - I hope you like it, but if not there'll be a more normal post along tomorrow.

As his right hand grasps the handle he realizes his mistake but he is committed and a moment later he struggles to keep his hold as the pain stabs at his elbow. "Over forty now!" he smiles ruefully to himself but he doesn't really believe that it is time to start to write his body off yet. He disguises his reaction and quietly switches hands.

Japanese people count by folding rather than unfolding their fingers ichi, ni, san... They start with their thumb and even four works fine - just leaving the sometimes recalcitrant pinkie standing patiently awaiting its turn.

Thinking about his apparent arm injury, he looks at his gloved hand as if it does not belong to him - a  prosthetic perhaps or a transplant. An alien thing only reluctantly agreeing to do his bidding. His elbow twinges again - perhaps to remind him that it at least has not been fooled by the usurper. 37, 38. 39, too old...

When it snows in Tokyo in March everyone is surprised but you would not know as you watch them scurry by purposefully sheltering themselves. Even a passing cyclist is navigating the deepening slush at the sides of the narrow and busy streets with one hand on the handlebars and the other holding an ever-whitening umbrella over her head.

Maybe somewhere nearby Japanese children are pressing their faces to a window and hoping for a chance to throw snowballs. He remembers that it is snowing at home too. Perhaps his own children are doing the same he thinks, forgetting that they are sleeping waiting for this day to begin nine long hours from now.

He reminds himself to tell them how in the restroom antechamber there are two neat lines of plastic bathroom slippers, one set for men the other for women. As if changing into slippers at the doorway of the workplace is not strange enough, here more communal shoe changing is required.

It is elsewhere that he notices that there's a small hole in his left sock. He looks at it with dismay as one of the many short moments when they are on show unfolds agonizingly slowly. With relief he notes that at least the hole is not allowing a toe to protrude. Shirt, tie, pressed trousers, holed socks. Eastern business attire for the incompetent.

At least this moment of social discomfort gives him temporary relief from the simple physical kind. He flexes his arm this way and that seeking the exact place where the pain begins. When he finds it, he holds the  position. Surely, he feels, this is in some way beneficial. Why is it that modern man thinks that was is   pleasurable is bad and what is painful is good? We have turned a million years of evolution on its head.

Our distant ancestors favored food with fat and sugar, high in life-giving calories. They did not need to learn to rest when they got tired or to stop when pain made them wince. Their life was simple; ease has made ours too complicated.

The number four, shi, sounds like the word for 'death' in Japanese. For this reason, their tall buildings often shun the fourth floor much as American ones avoid the thirteenth. Also, they avoid the coincidence in certain compound numbers including forty. Too close to home he thinks with a silent chuckle.

He decides he will let his arm and his cultural insecurities rest for a while; after all he is not a young man to agonize over such things any more. Determined not to dwell on either real or social death, he folds the final finger into a fist. Go.


  1. You should write some books - how about some decent hard sci-fi stuff. I can't find anything that I like at the moment, only Stephen Baxter. I have tried some others but found them disappointing. What do you consider to be a really good hard sci-fi book ?


  2. Not sure I've ever really been into 'hard' sci-fi. As a teenager I read Asimov and Clarke - both of whom qualify in part I suppose. Sci-fi stuff I've enjoyed recently includes the Gap Series by Stephen Donaldson (need a strong stomach and an open mind for that one) and some Iain M Banks (Culture) novels. Neither really qualify as 'hard' I suspect although you couldn't call them soft either!

  3. Thankyou for that. Asimov and Clarke used to have fights via correspondence I think. Do you want a correspondence fight ? Oi are you looking at my post mate, I'll ave yer ?



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