Paul Rossiter



                sign over a shoe shop in the
underground passage at Shinjuku station

red cardboard speech-bubbles
affixed to pert ankle boots say:

                               HOT ! ! !

– and so to L’AMBRE coffee shop
a plush and lofty-ceilinged basement
                with triple-decker wrought-iron chandeliers
                dangling from dusty metal chains
tobacco-smoke-yellowed stucco walls
rustic redbrick pillars, fake-marble tables
and low red-velvet-cushioned chairs

                               Beethoven plays from the speakers –
                               and here we are,
                                              effortlessly transported back
                               to the late Showa Era


                                      a former semi-rural
watercourse, confined under concrete, now
a paved and shrub-lined
                footpath snaking through the suburbs

                               an old man plods along it
                               a dinging bear-bell dangling from
                               his day-pack, memento
                               of long-gone days of Alpine derring-do

afternoon: to the dentist
root-canal work
two front teeth at the bottom are under threat:
will I be able to keep them?


                once upon a time I was ‘a young man’
                now I’m ‘an older person’


at Someday in Shinjuku:
                Takeuchi Nao’s nine-piece band
four seasoned players (tenor, trombone, baritone, drums)
the other five in their twenties, all
                               with idol-style mop haircuts
(the two trumpeters growing thin moustaches)
faultless reading (complex charts) and brimming-over solos

the generosity of jazz!
its endlessly inventive gifting

                               (what I spotted as a teenager, listening to
                               Ronnie Scott and Tubby Hayes
                                              in the basement at 39 Gerrard Street –
                               and it’s kept me hooked all these years)

                I order a bottle of wine: Mo has to go out
                to get one from the convenience store –
                               the economics of owning a live house:
                his middle names Precarity and Jazz


whenever I walk
through the underground passage between
the two subway stations at Shinjuku San-chome
                as I do on my way home tonight
                (the route we took together evening and morning)
I remember Alison, it happens every time

                               the young Ali, 1981

                (especially tonight I remember her now anew:
                last year, so suddenly, leukaemia)


to the hospital in Ogikubo to see Dr Nishino,
set an appointment for the annual post-cancer check, get
the ECG, blood test, and X-ray done,
the hospital staff as always
                               unfailingly cheerful and friendly
a saintly profession

                               walking back to the station
                               Tokyo winter sunlight on my face
                               glinting, brilliant, clear


Fuji-san looms when seen from
                the platform at Kyodo station
this evening especially, silhouetted against
an orange sky
a horizontal band of cloud
edged with sunset fire encroaching on one flank


a flawless violet evening sky
bathes the Meiji-era
red brick façade of Tokyo Station in light

across the street
shining glass towers float high above
                five-storey early-Showa buildings of cut stone
                inside whose emptied shells the
                bases of the skyscrapers have been inserted

pass through glass doors into one of these
                then up the escalator to the Cotton Club
where everything narrows down to a small pool of light
containing Marcin Wasilewski
                               playing ‘Night Train to You’ –

                                              touch, definite and delicate
                                              strong and, at once, gentle –

                the way, when he
                completes an intricately
                phrase in the
                treble, he suddenly
                raises his right elbow high


a beautiful February spring-like day
train to Yokohama
where I get lost in the enormous station (as I always do)
lunch with Bill Elliott
he’s writing a lot, his swan-song he calls it (he’s 87)

train to Kamakura, narrow-gauge to Hase

                such handsome houses in Kamakura
                even the ones with plastic façades
                look as if they might have been designed
                rather than put together from a kit
                                              (or some of them do, anyway)

crowds of tourists at the great Buddha
                (the road from the station
more up-market than it used to be, I notice)

                               up a steep path at the back of the temple
                               a peaceful sunlit
                               walk through trees once I get my breath back

narrow-gauge home along the shore

                late-afternoon sunlight on the
                inward-rolling, long-fetch, deep-blue, silky Pacific swell


to meet Maya’s mother at
the hospital where her father goes for day care

                a short walk after lunch while
                               mother and daughter talk some more
                downhill to a cemetery, where
                I perch on a boulder in the sunshine –

odd to be sitting quietly in a graveyard with none of whose inhabitants I have any connection, here on the other side of the world – although that of course begs the question:

                                              which side of the world is ‘other’?

                               a satisfaction, a kind of peace
                               in actually being here in a place
                               I never imagined I would visit
                               that I didn’t know existed
                               and which I’ll never come back to

at the hospital
we wheelchair Maya’s father to the café for tea

                most of what he says
                incomprehensible because of the stroke
                but he wolfs down a waffle with evident pleasure

father and daughter are delighted to see each other
Maya has brought him a bag of books


in Takamatsu
dinner in a restaurant
where Isamu Noguchi used to be a regular

                richly coloured, grainy wooden tables
                modernist curves, planes and angles

Noguchi lampshades (originals) – small
                suspended sculptures of thick
                               white hand-made paper

a restaurant catering for
fans of Modernism (like us) or
                (white shirt, sedge hat, walking staff)
pilgrims visiting the eighty-eight temples of Shikoku

the cook uses only local ingredients


in the morning, the route from
the station to the Noguchi Museum
passes across the site of the Battle of Yashima (1185)
                a naval encounter although
                               now it’s all reclaimed land

a roadside plaque tells us that
right here, on this piece of pot-holed tarmac,
                Nasu no Yoichi rode his horse into the sea and shot
                a lady’s fan off a pole on a Heike ship
(‘one of the most famous archery feats in Japanese history’)

                Noguchi, though, came here to Mure
                for the stone – and it’s easy to see why: dense,
                compact, evenly granular, capable
                of being polished to a perfectly smooth finish

                               atelier, sculpture garden (unfinished works)
                               exhibition space (finished works), house, garden
                               landscaped hillside with a view over the Inland Sea

a town inhabited by sculptors and stone-cutters:
some manufacture granite statuettes of
                Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs
a few try their hand at Noguchi-style abstracts, but
the local speciality is gravestones


a sunny Tuesday in Tokyo

cat Suzunari is outside, sniffing at things on the balcony

strong warm winds from the south

the dreamy Japanese spring

Paul Rossiter was born in Cornwall, England in 1947 and has lived in Japan since 1981; in 2012, he founded Isobar Press, which specialises in English-language poetry from Japan, whether written by Anglophone poets who live in Japan or by Japanese poets who choose to write in English. His own most recent books of poetry are Temporary Measures (2017), and On Arrival (2019). More information about Isobar Press can be found at: https://isobarpress.com.
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