Home Is Where There Are Friends

THE PAST TWO WEEKS have been surreal. Last week was one of the most memorable weeks of my life, and the week prior I spent with my dad who was visiting me in Japan. We cruised around my home in Osaka, visited Kyoto and then spent several nights on the island of Miyakojima.

I was sad to say goodbye to my dad, but I still had a week off of work when I touched back down in Osaka, so I wasn’t totally overwhelmed with emotion. Not yet.

I thought I’d spend the week getting back on my routine and relaxing. In a sense I did, but it turned into more. So much more. I’ll start at the end.

Monday. I set out to buy my first chasen, the bamboo whisk used for brewing matcha, the ancient and bright green tea.

I walked out of the second story shop onto the bustling streets of Shinsaibashi, Osaka. The old and sprightly man who ran the store with his son bowed as I turned down the road.

“Goodbye, teacher!” he said, waving.

For the last thirty minutes, I’d been perusing his store which sells matcha related goods.

This father son duo seemed surprised that I was there, their shop showing scant signage or anything resembling a shopfront.

I did my best to converse in Japanese while sweating profusely in the small store, wiping my forehead with my trusted handkerchief.

A myriad of handcrafted chawan, cups for drinking matcha, lined the walls. So did small boxes, chasen, and a variety of miscellaneous goods associated with the art of tea.

The three of us talked about sports and writing and teaching, my answers consistently followed by a low, elongated ehhhhhh!? My age surprised them. Excited might be a better word.

You both look young and healthy, too, I told them earnestly.

I’d come here to conclude a sort of matcha odyssey embarked upon two weeks prior. Santana, one of my best friends who had been the sole reason for my interest in matcha, led an impromptu matcha ceremony in my tiny apartment.

Santana had just acquired his iridescent chawan and bamboo chasen, but as tradition, he needed to make tea for others for its first use. I was enamored by the beauty of the chawan, noting how when you have things that are meaningful and simple, you need little else.

Home brew.
Home brew.

The following week was spent with my dad. We went our separate ways and on the night I returned from Miyakojima, I was outside of my apartment building with a couple of best friends, the three of us thinking we were the only few still in town for the rest of break.

As we dawdled about in the street, relaxing in the warmth of night amid interspersed rain, Santana’s hulking mass came out of the shadow and into the streetlight, his signature black cowboy hat prominent.

He’d just returned from Tokyo and would spend his last week in Japan staying in our building in a mutual friend’s room. She was out of town, and little did we know this quartet would compose the ensemble for a week of innumerable laughs, tears and discussions well into each summer night.

It felt like the last week of university when finals are done, plans are set and there’s nothing to do but cherish the time with your friends; Santana was leaving Japan to continue his lifelong crusade of doing extraordinary shit around the world.

He spent a year in Thailand training Muay Thai before coming to Japan, culminating in a professional fight in the ring where he left bloodied and marred and had a fantastic fucking time.

Santana came to Japan to study matcha, living in Osaka and on a farm in Kyoto. Next, he’d be sending it to Mexico to start a retreat center and study Mezcal in a similar vein.

In our short time together kicking it in Japan, Santana opened up my eyes to the integral and artistic spirit of the land I’m so grateful to call home.

I never thought that matcha would be such a meaningful part of my time in Japan until I met this mustachioed devil. I didn’t think it would be part of my experience, really, at all.

More than being just a provocateur of tea and a vigilante of quality, Santana and I felt like kindred souls chasing something seldom sought; in our own distinct ways, we’re after that which permeates every facet of this globe yet can’t be captured in its purest form; that which exists in all things yet must be channeled, expressed, embraced, through soul to soul relationships or artistic endeavors or merely a change in perception: love.

Like the air we breathe, love is formless, although everywhere; we beating hearts lend it form.

By becoming a fighter, studying tea, or continuing his ventures in Mexico to build a place of excellence in repose, Santana continues to do something indelibly extraordinary, for what’s expressed and left in his wake can’t be bloodied from battle or dried out like a plant — the embodiment of love.

Through seeking on the surface the corporeal arts, love is made manifest, for it’s attained a form through the people that he’s met. Now we carry that ourselves; how we express it is up to us.

Through his fearless embrace of the unknown, Santana has shown me that home is wherever there are friends, and that’s wherever we go if we’re willing to seek them, even, like him, with nothing resembling a semblance of a plan.

It might even be better that way. Besides the matcha, what made the week so epic:

Santana, me and a few other close friends in Osaka bro’d down buck naked at Spa World. We discussed life, passion, love, while alternating between the cold plunge and saunas.

Our quartet would hang in the street outside of our apartment every night, laying outstretched on the black paved road. On the final night we held hands in a circle as my eyes welled; my heart beats with y’all, my mind repeated.

We discussed the things we love: Halloween and spirit animals, spirits themselves, random shit; we dressed up in thrift store garb and partied into the morning.

Santana introduced us to Kauru, the woman who had been like a mother to him during his time in Japan. Kauru runs a beautiful tea house in Osaka, Osaka Chakai, and serendipitously opened countless doors for Santana while here.

I was lucky to be there when they said their goodbyes.

Santana gave her a scroll, black and tied in a purple string. She gave him a small and brilliant vase, made for a single flower. We had several varieties of matcha and desserts. Kauru showed us a silver globe dotted with all the travelers who had visited from around the world.

On his final day in Osaka, Santana gifted me the chawan I found so lovely on that first night; it felt like centuries ago.

It’ll forever be one of my prized possessions, one of those meaningful and simple joys.

He had to show me one of his favorite tea houses before leaving, wadIt was there that the legend behind the grey stone counter, Sukuna, told us where to go for a naoshi, the chasen-holder Santana was looking for, as he masterfully crafted our ensemble of tea.

Alas it was closed that day; I’d go the next day to finish the job and buy a naoshi of my own. No chance I would have found that second story shop without Sukuna’s recommendation.

After a farewell sushi dinner, Santana left.

That night I didn’t know what to do with myself. Stuck on the bridge between a difficult goodbye and a beautiful beginning, I knew not which way to walk, forward or back. I went to a rooftop in my neighborhood and looked into the night sky.

Tears fell. I danced. I wrote.

How could I make sense of these emotions.

It ripped me open to say goodbye to a friend. A brother. What to do with this passion words can’t convey. I wanted to run. Cry. Sprint. The price we pay for living with the entirety of our heart is that it often hurts — to be pieced together at the start of a new chapter.

Friends are everything.

We don’t just come and go.

We remain in memories and objects and moments lived and not yet lived; we endure and battle and love together; we stumble and drift and dance and sway — we continue. Together.

The noise may vacillate, days can be fucking painful; but the signal is strong and trending up.

How could it be otherwise if we have each other.

Life is confusing. Life is beautiful. Life is eternally worthwhile. Life is a fucking miracle. Home is where there are friends, and that’s wherever we go if we’re willing to seek em.

Love you Santeazy. See you out there king, sooner than we know.

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