26 Oct The Bridge
THE NAMBA HATCH emerges like a mother ship from Osaka’s neon-lit horizon. Sparsely filled steps build and build, layer by layer, until they crescendo at the dark silver and prismatic music venue.
A group sits here on one set of stairs, another sits above; a solitary man relaxes even higher, watching, like me, as dusk falls upon the city. I sit somewhere in the middle, leaning against the side railing.
I pull from my bag a tinny Asahi beer and a pickled plum onigiri. I take my notebook from my black canvas bag. The bag is my companion, as good bags often are.
I’ll take it to work, carrying along a few soft paper books with teaching instructions and things to give the bag weight, lest it be just an empty bag with only my handkerchief, loose coins and headphones.
Good things tend to come from the bag.
I often consult the map book, a small paper booklet with concise instructions on how to get to the correct school in the different areas of Japan’s Kansai region.
I’ve had a couple of close calls already, like when I went to Tomigaoka on an emergency call.
The train arrived with about ten minutes to make it to class. It usually takes about fifteen minutes to prepare; I knew I was sailing into open sea with little experience behind the helm.
I’d learn to ride the waves as they would come, for the gods of the deep would, perhaps, commend my willingness to embrace them with the little I know.
I scanned my IKOKA rail pass. The light blinked red and the small yellow gates halted my advance. No. Not now. I opened my wallet. No cash; I scanned the train exit. No ATM within its walls. Damn.
“Sumimasen?” I asked the white-gloved clerk, evocative of a formal, bygone age. I made the gesture that I can’t get through, nor did I have cash to top up my ICOCA.
I’ve wondered what somebody would do in one of these situations, not realizing it would soon become my fate and at the worst possible time.
Would I spend my days amid train purgatory — neither here nor there, on the train or out of the station — for all of eternity?
If that would be my lot in life, so be it. Perhaps I could smuggle in an onigiri; somehow coax a wily fox or a curious owl to scurry under or fly over those small yellow gates in the dead of night to deliver the goods — a bonito flakes onigiri.
Ya, that would hold me for a while. A few days, maybe. I’d need more if I’d be here forever…
Snap out of it! Focus.
The attendant took kindly to my awkward predicament. He signaled that there was an ATM across the road at the convenient store. He opened the gate. Just like that, I’m free. I’m.. free? I’m free!
Do I run for it?
I could see the signs now:
THREE DAYS AGO CONFUSED ENGLISH TEACHER ESCAPES TOMIGOAKA STATION #
LAST SEEN LEAVING LOCAL KONBINI WITH THREE CANS OF RAINBOW BOSS COFFEE & COD ROE ONIGIRI TRAILING IN HIS WAKE #
No. I wouldn’t let him down. “Arigato gozaimasu!” I responded in haste, putting my hands together in prayer and giving several quick and appreciative nods of the head.
I won’t let you down.
I let you down, pal. I returned to the train station having accepted defeat; the konbini ATM wouldn’t take my card; the time the class was supposed to start had passed; I, lost in translation and out of my depths, had no solution to speak of.
My hand dug through the recesses of my black canvas bag — searching, pleading, grabbing for a coin to free me from this limbo.
The bag bereft of weighty things contained the ticket to my freedom. A 500 yen coin, the luxurious Titanic of Japanese coins, which sunketh to the bottom of the bag which is the sea.
I excavated its remains, slapped that reclaimed glimmer of hope into the pay station and added the funds to my ICOCA.
I raced out of there with a salute to my trusting friend; you knew I had it in me all along, didn’t ya?
With a five-minute jog to the location of the school, I followed the vague instructions and entered a side, employees only entrance into the leviathan department store. My school was somewhere nestled within this beast.
A card flash here, temperature check there, signage and time stamp and BAM BOOM BOP.
I made it through the innards of white walls, squeaky floors and clothing racks until I reached the school, frazzled and determined. At least, just maybe, the class was cancelled. I tried, right?
The class was moved to 12pm and starts in five minutes! The school director told me.
Perfect. This is why we play the game. Put me in, coach.
There’s a bridge in front of the steps which leads from this side of the canal to the other. Curling vines hang from its edge and float above the water.
The bridge isn’t straight.
It’s longer than it could be, if one wanted simply to get across and be done with it.
The water below the bridge expresses the glistening light of the surrounding buildings. With every ripple, the water reflects the light like a shimmering diamond bracelet that’s worn on a wrist, part of a hand, that writes on a piece of paper with a pen.
I think the rippling water has something to do with the bridge’s design. It cuts left from the river’s wooden bank, then sharply to the right, and that is where it crosses over the water.
Then it returns left, like a falling leaf, to the shore. The bridge seems to maximize the space, because, perhaps, its engineer, its creator, saw an opportunity to make one feel something as they crossed over the water.
They saw a journey to be had.
What happens when you cross a bridge?
In a sense, you’re taking life into your own hands. Your feet are no longer planted firmly on the ground. You’ve risen to a higher plane, where life is a bit more dangerous.
Anything could happen, and if it does, you’re on a bridge, and things might shake, you might fall, but there’s water to catch you. You’re taking a chance by taking the journey from here to there.
That journey isn’t straight.
When you’re on the bridge, time might build with somebody you love, or, somebody you’ve only just begun to know. There’s an opportunity there, and maybe you’ll go for it.
There’s time, if you stop and take it, to look into the water and watch the waves glisten like snow in the early morning. Maybe you’ll see a different version of yourself in the hue of dusk, who you’ve always wanted to be.
Perhaps you’re alone and you stop in the middle, and you look up from the water. You gaze down the furthest reaches of the continuous river which pierces the city like an arrow through hay, and it pierces your heart as well, as you consider how deep life can go.
Maybe we’re not meant to only get from A to B, start to finish, birth to death, without meandering a bit.
Maybe getting from A to B isn’t the point. If everything went smoothly, if I made it to my destination without a hitch, a bump in the road, a reason to stop, look around and ask for help, I’d have no story to tell.
“But how could you live, and have no story to tell?” said the brilliant writer Fyodor Dostoevsky.
Aren’t we here to live our story, and not merely know the end?
The bridge doesn’t just go from here to there, nor did I in Tomigaoka. That’s why the bridge is beautiful.