Friday, September 14, 2007


WALKING TO WORK


On the mornings when I come to work in the big city, making my way from the station to the office - about a 15-minute walk - I like to vary my route each time so I can explore all the back streets, narrow alleys and other entertainment-district warrens that can be found near any hub station in Japan's major cities.

One of these routes out of the station (especially on rainy days, when by going this way I don't get wet till the very end) - actually through the station, it's a long one - takes me past the big bookstore (that I visit on the rare occasions when I'm feeling masochistic and wish to look through their arcane offering of English books arranged by the author's last name, or maybe first name), across one of the undertrack roads (nearly this whole walk is under the tracks) into a cloud of that holy scent known to all who are familiar with Japan, shrouding a small shrine dedicated to commerce where elderly ladies (who amazingly live somewhere nearby) and local business owners come each morning to burn some incense, clap their hands, bow their heads and put in a good word for their fortunes.

Then a hard right takes me down a small corridor flanked by tiny food and drink shops with kitchens the size of phone booths, across another undertrack road and on to the big aquarium corridor, with large tanks of fish of all kinds and sizes along the left side, and food and toy shops on the right; then outside and along under the track overhang, where there are a lot more slightly larger eating and drinking emporiums (the fancy big-windowed places are on the other side of the tracks), all closed in the morning, for this is the night-time entertainment district (as I make my way home in the evening, they're all just opening up, wafting their tempting foody-drinky fragrances to tired and hungry office workers on their way home).

This road leads on to a narrowing, non-through road past the last section of station track, just before the river bridge, that is unsuited to anything else because of its lack of traffic and its oddly shaped spaces. It is the workplace of the folks who build all the one-off temporary sales and presentation displays for the many big station stores, for conferences and the like. They often work outside on large design tasks, and the roadsides are stacked with an ever-changing variety of scraps from former jobs.

At the narrow end, where the road empties perpendicularly into a wide sidewalk, there is a tall bank of exhaust fans for a couple of busy ramen shops on that corner. From the shop kitchens, the fans whoosh out a hot, powerful and appetizing non-stop wave of ramen essence, which in its way is the essence of food. I swear you could stand there breathing it in for ten minutes and get the equivalent of a meal. It always reminds me of the old Japanese joke about the eel seller who daily complained to the man who every morning just stood there on the street close beside the eel stall, enjoying the delicious fragrance of the merchant’s broiling eels, without ever buying any. One morning, after he'd had a good sniff and been complained at again, the fellow clinked his coin purse at the eel seller, who said What are you doing that for? The man said I'm paying for the smell of your eels with the sound of my money.

Then across the street to the office, all the richer.

4 comments:

Winston said...

You ingeniously crafted an interesting essay from a montage of semi-interesting thoughts and experiences. Nicely done...

Bob Brady said...

Thanks Winston... It just struck me as I was walking to work how familiarly invisible all this was to me by now, but how foreignly curious it might be to one who has never been here...

1000myths said...

Just stopped in for the first time, came by way of your brother's site in S.B>
"Paying for the smell of your eels..." definitely made the trip worthwhile.
Thanks

Trace said...

Very cool joke indeed! You enjoy interesting walks to your work; to say the least...lovely.