I have woken up alone. D has gone back to work. There are no children, no students, because they are off – by law – until May 7th. But teachers……
It was hard for me to sleep last night thinking about the sheer futility of the delay in calling a lockdown, as Tokyo finds new surges in corona cases. And to imagine : sixty or more teachers in a windowless, unventilated room ‘preparing lessons’ for a studentless beginning of term when it is epidemiologically obvious that they instead should be self-isolating at home. I can’t stand him being there in that situation. I feel enragedly helpless. I myself am due back on Thursday, theoretically, but am not sure if I will be able to go back, psychologically. I don’t know if I could tolerate having to do it when it is so against my will and my feeling of common sense. I have just this very minute heard that there is apparently about to be a state of emergency declared, but I can imagine this being limited to Tokyo (even though all the trains I have to catch are going back and forth, back and forth, all day long between the megalopolis and where I work; teachers live in those places and come down; the trains and buses are full of people; it makes no logical sense. My blood is inflammable this morning —- you could take a match to me —- so I think I will leave it there before I say something I regret…)
On Sunday afternoon we sat on the balcony in the warm sun. (Well, we call it the balcony: really it is a ‘veranda’ or whatever you call a place that you hang out the washing). That is what Japanese people would use theirs for, in any case, and probably find us very eccentric for turning it into our outside relaxation space – usually just functional places made of plastic, the previous owners of this place had instead made a really nice one made of wood which we have decorated with furniture and hung with rugs and plants – and curious seventies furniture and metal ashtrays, so I suppose it could also be thought of in truth as being a ‘deck’ – in any case, it is the place we often go when the sun comes out for just sitting and reading the newspaper or drinking wine and listening to music. Just staring out into the sky. Taking in the pleasing ambient sounds of the neighbourhood that we live in; children in the distance, cats, the sounds of bird song. People laughing. Our retreat. Sadly, we were intensely aware that the spring vacation was coming to an end and that we were about to be senselessly forced back into the worksphere right in the middle of a silenced epidemic (Japan just really doesn’t want to admit that this happening. The recalcitrance, the refusal to accept reality is astonishing in this case…………………..but in a land where ambiguity is key, and it is the ambiguity that has probably kept us here, as it is so much more beautiful and malleable for people like us than the Anglo-Saxon overemphatic dissection, and is the basis for all of the things that we love about living in Japan), except on this occasion : : : : when our lives our literally at stake, and my vote most definitely goes for European rationality, and precise, completely logic-based, action.
In perfume, though. We get so used to the vamp, the hooker, the slugging showstopper. The contextual mindfuck; the ‘latest addition’, ‘the new eau de toilette’. All these heavily contrived and market researched perfumes that command such attention and require such commitment as you endure them through your day from their top notes to their unwashable bases that you sometimes forget that the quieter, more gentle perfumes – at the right moment – can feel like a godsend. Like moments of awakening. Cue Koke Shimizu, or Moss Water, a perfume I have neglected to ever try on properly previously as it seemed so light and inconsequential when I undoubtedly had more ‘lordy’ preoccupations on my mind and was flouncing or stampeding through the house like Napoleon Bonaparte meets Charles Baudelaire: at other times I would have probably thought to myself, when dripping laboriously in unguent, that I couldn’t even actually smell it.
In the rays of the sun coming down onto the balcony, on clean skin, I applied some Koke Shimizu onto D’s left wrist. And I must confess when I came closer to smell it I did something I am not sure I have ever done before: I instinctively brought my whole head down onto his arm. In exhalations, and rested there inhaling from that spot, like a fawn in a forest coming to drink water near to a pool of light in an afternoon clearing. Air. Grass. The muffled quiet of moss on trees. A pool just in the visible distance. A moment of grace. How perfumer Satori Osawa achieved this effect I don’t know – the notes available online do not correspond with how I smell the result – she has crafted something of great delicacy here – but it is wonderful to know that a whole other world of perfumery exists, if you are lucky enough to come across it, in which private moments of reflection like this can create an oasis of calm that you can truly retreat into. Just pause, and look up. Admittedly, the ending of the scent is not as interesting as the beginning, ceding to a delicate oakmoss powder that does not quite contain the clear serenity of the opening, but even this, later in the evening, on D, had become like moss in the moonlight. Alone in the garden of the temple precinct; self reliant; unconstrained.