If you want to read these memories in chronological order, please scroll down to Memories of Japan I to start reading.
The Sakuradamon Gate, Imperial Palace Tokyo
I began the gradual process of adjusting to life in a very foreign environment. After a few months, a Japanese friend found an apartment just down the street that he thought would be much better for me. It was! It had two (small) room, tatami, and a tiny kitchen, and toilet (also squat type, but raised a bit). Still going to the public bath, but I could do a lot more with the space. I even had a tempura party there—actually tempura is pretty easy, just mix up some batter, dip anything you want in it, pop it into hot oil. So easy, until it is time to clean up. The whole tiny kitchen was covered with a fine layer of grease. Oh well.
I began to learn more about Tokyo. My place was pretty well situated, about 20 or 30 minutes to the Imperial Palace. My first English teaching job was at Marubeni, a major trading company. The HQ building was across the moat from the palace. The original plan of the city survives to some extent—the palace is at the center, with concentric ring roads as you go further out. The pedestrian sidewalks around the palace have become a hot spot for runners—once around is about 5K. So, the new hires at Marubeni had to do the run one Saturday; their time would be recorded in their personnel file. So, I asked if I could join them. That run was just so impressive—great and diverse views of the moat and castle walls. There was an ancient wooden defensive gate, like 6 or 8 inches thick with heavy metal hardware and huge bosses. It was propped open and the running path went through it. The movie Shogun has just come out, and I felt like I had gone back in time going through that gate. If you want more views, you can go inside the walls to see extensive gardens—no charge, you just get a tag when you enter, and return the tag when you exit so they can be sure no one is left inside at closing time.
By sheer luck, I had another great experience at the palace. The emperor has had an official musical ensemble playing the ancient ‘gagaku’ court music on ancient instruments—a continuous musical tradition since the 10th century or so. It turns out they give performances from time to time. The tickets are free, but you have to know someone who is connected to get a ticket. So, a connected person offered me a ticket! So I hopped on the 20th century subway train, then walked through an 18th century gate, through antique gardens to the hall where I would hear music from the 10th century. It was only slightly disappointing that the hall was modern. Very few structures within the palace walls survived bombing in WWII, so the music hall, the residential palace etc. are all fairly new. The music sounds like outer space—maybe this was the origin of my interest in electronic space ambient music.
Teaching the employees at Marubeni was interesting, but I began to feel that, as we sat in chairs around a table, wearing neckties and jackets, and speaking English, my experience was not as Japanese as I had hoped. My friend said ‘I know a shamisen teacher! I will introduce you!’ So, he took me to meet Kineya Goshiroh, who was still a student at the prestigious Tokyo University of Music and Fine Arts, and still using his birth name, Minoda Shiroh. I was still not speaking much Japanese at that point, but the notation of the shamisen music was in Arabic numerals, and I mostly just imitated my teacher. It was through Minoda-sensei that I got involved in traditional music, related to the Kabuki theater. Minoda-sensei took me to the kabuki theater, and we saw the play Kagotsurube. The leading role was the famous Utaemon. Later, Minoda-sensei introduced me to a classmate, Abe Hisae, who came from a family of hayashi drum musicians, who also played at Kabuki. She would later be known as Mochizuki Tazae, and she was instrumental in allowing me to use a Mochizuki name, given by her father, Mochizuki Tazaemon X. Once, when Tazaemon was playing at Kabuki, Tazae-sensei took me to the dressing room backstage, where I greeted Tazaemon. Then my teacher showed me a door leading to a tunnel running under the theater. It opened in the lobby. We went into the theater to watch the show. For free! How does this work, I wondered. My teacher told me to tell the usher I was a student of Tazaemon—studying by watching. She also said standing was better, but if there were lots of empty seats it might be okay to sit. That theater was torn down six or eight years ago, and a new one was built which is a pretty accurate copy of the old building. However, I have only been to the new one once, and I did not confirm if the secret passageway was still there.