When I first came to Japan in March 1989 one of the first things I did with my free time - my first weekend, after settling in to an apartment and getting my bearings around the city (or, at least, my bearings around my neighborhood) - was to take the subway down to Ginza Station and from there walk to the Imperial Palace. At the time I did not know where the ImperialPalace was. I was just walking around looking at things. I chose the Ginzaas my starting place because it is world famous. I could see the Japanese parliament building - the National Diet, or “kokaigijidou” in the distance - and I was walking towards that to have a closer look when I happened upon the Imperial Palacemoat at the corner where the Daiichi Mutual Life Insurance office building is - the office building used by General Douglas McArthur as his SCAP headquarters in Japan. (I didn’t know any of that at the time.) The spring time weather was warm and pleasant, but still weeks away from Cherry Blossoms. In those days there were no iPods, and pocket-sized CD players were still an expensive novelty (cell phone did not exist yet, either). I still carried my Sony Walkman, entertaining myself by listening to cassette tapes as I explored. So there I was - on a Saturday, I think - in the warm sunshine of this foreign city, looking at the Nijuubashi bridge that enters the ImperialPalace compound over the shallow, brackish moat inhabited by swans and koi carp listening to Simon and Garfunkel and The Mamas and the Papas on my Walkman. And I thought,
“This is the saddest thing in the world - to be alone here in this city looking at the Gates of Heaven and listening to Simon and Garfunkel in the warm spring time sun, with swans and carp nearby. Where are the tears? Someone should be crying over this scenario. But not me. I’ll just write about it in about twenty years.”
That’s how beautiful Simon and Garfunkel and The Mamas and the Papas still sound after forty years. I still sometimes think, Poor Cass Elliot. She couldn’t liveto see this, the Gates of Heaven and the brackish koi-inhabited moat. Oh, well.
There is a street in my current neighborhood that I think is one of the saddest places imaginable. It’s unfair, too, really, because it’s just a street. Whenever I am on it I feel that the buildings there must be like the Faculty of Medicine buildings at the University of Toronto when my father was a student there fifty years ago, and the awfulness of it is discomfiting. I have known a lot of university buildings (at five different colleges), but I don’t know the Faculty of Medicine buildings at the University of Toronto. University architecture can be dreary and depressing because its calculatedly horrible design seems to be meant to aggravate young people away from home for the first time, but it is still beyond me why I should feel that way about the U of T Faculty of Medicine. Like many streets, it has no name in Japanese. But it intersects with Honan dori, the nearest thoroughfare that runs straight down to JR Shinjuku Station, a major commuter hub and the location of the Tokyo Metropolitan Government buildings. On the right is the Marunouchi Subway Line’s rail yards and service and repair sheds, hidden by high walls and fences. On the left is a grey, cement Marunouchi Line office building, a condominium building and an office building. My overall impression of the street is cold, bleak and isolated - like how I always felt at the start of every new university term from September 1981-to- September 1986. I don’t like it.