Every few months or so I buy a box of Seiun incense. A simple, every day ‘family shrine’ incense blend of benzoin, camphor and patchouli, far less expensive than the more upscale artistanal temple incense featuring sandalwood or agar, I then have a ritual, at night, of dripping patchouli essential oil, drop by drop, onto the sticks, covering as much as possible (my favourites are the ones that are completely black: one day I will buy many bottles at once and make a threnody of the substance, as patchoulish as a witch).
When lit, the effect as the smoke hangs in the air, is pure patchouli. I know from trial and experimentation that this process doesn’t work with vetiver, cedarwood, vanilla, or any number of other essential oils I have tried – the scent becomes altered and unpleasant. With patchouli, though, it is almost as if the material were designed for this very use, the effect mind altering; pungently dark and earthy, twisty and sinuous, an arid, soil-like purification of the air that is more than a match for the current gloom of the moist, malingering rainy season where all is damp; green, almost constantly raining; humid and overgrown (see our ‘hydrangea bower’ in the top picture where we sit on the street and drink coffee watching people passing by on sunny days). On occasion, over the years, in small packages I have sent some of this double bind of patchouli of mine through to people – to Tora, to Pissara in Paris, D’s mum, Helen (Georgia, I think you definitely need some) – patchouli lovers lover it: it lingers in a room, dry and mitigating like a beautiful cold accusation.
Currently, we are also in a suspended state. The rain dampens everything, and yet I find myself partially in the mood for it. Waiting for this period to be over, while also wanting to live it. The Olympics are soon to be held, even as the Delta variant of the coronavirus is starting to spread; some athletes already taking it with them to the training villages that they are staying in and infecting local inhabitants. I feel like staying in as much as possible. We have been immersed in an eerie film we are making, in which I drown like Ophelia in the painting by Millais: weekends are spent in filming and editing; not really straying from the house; I lost my sense of smell and taste temporarily, but this was from being submerged in the bath surrounded by flowers and foliage ripped from the front garden rather than from a Covid diagnosis. Mad as this probably sounds, we need some artistic catharsis from all the accumulated stress and are absolutely in our element. The results are exciting. Thursday, though, with biting reality, I got a message from D at school: “Bad news. Our vaccinations have been cancelled due to a lack of supply”: an alarming turn of events that is now, in fact, transpiring across much of Japan as local authorities are forced to say no even to people in the 60-65 age bracket due to logistical mismanagement and a failure to secure enough doses by the hapless central government, who are about to let 90,000 people from abroad into the country with very few restrictions on their movement (the word that always gets used in this situation, in our household anyway, is pathetic. My god it’s pathetic‘.) P A T H E T I C, and also potentially lethal.
At any rate, the fact that the teachers in his school were asked instead to ‘try and get a vaccine somehow over the August summer break’ set my pulse racing on Friday. Fend for yourself, basically. It was all set in my mind that even though it was a bit close to the edge, he was set to get his first Moderna jab on July 24th, the day after the Opening Ceremony, and then we would proceed from there, seven months after our families had their injections back in the UK: to thus have the rug pulled from under your feet in this way is not very pleasant. It is not even that either of us is cowardly, afraid of getting the flu, or flu-like symptoms. Staying in bed for a few days with hot aches can almost be pleasurable in a sick kind of way; you just sleep it off and then feel rejuvenated afterwards. It is the extremities, your hands and feet, shrivelling and turning black as you die from lack of oxygen, the organ failure; the ventilators – plastic contraptions forced into your lungs which, even if you manage to survive, cause so much damage to the surrounding tissue that you have to have rehabilitation just for that. The brain fog. The stomach cramps. The debilitation. A friend sent me an email yesterday saying that a friend of hers has already had Covid once and now – he didn’t get vaccinated – has got horrible swollen glands like golf balls in his neck from having tested positive for Delta. NO THANKYOU. I will do anything to avoid being in this situation.
In kinetic, rational, fully proactive mode, at work the next day on Friday, I set about trying to get D onto my work vaccination program – still in progress – as next of kin. No problem. No issue – I was impressed with the modernity of the situation; D was considered a spouse, and one of my Japanese colleagues did his absolute best to see if there was a place on the waiting list for cancellations – every day there are three or four (some teachers are put off by the reports of some of the aches in your arm that you get from the injection (hello? compare that to liver failure or your muscle tissue atrophying in your legs or not being able to breathe); others are abiding by the rule that if you are feeling under par, you shouldn’t have the vaccination on that day. All the more for us then.
Jubilation. Yes! It turned out that there was a spot the very next day, on Saturday. So off we went to the centre of Yokohama, to the place where they were doing the jabs – there wasn’t even a line; we were in and out; vaccinated, it had happened, and then we wandered around the city in a happy weekend daze until we came across a building where a decade or so ago we had held a couple of dance parties, a place that had now turned into a Nepalese restaurant, where we sat on the rooftop garden, just the two of us, breathing many sighs of relief over a slow and delicious lunch. We will both have had the second vaccination – we have been guaranteed a set of two – by the end of July. Two weeks after that, we will potentially be able to feel protected enough to even go on a short trip; to some seaside town, maybe; though we are not going to be taking any chances. Though nothing like the situation in Brazil and Peru and elsewhere, with the ‘Olympics’ threatening to cause superspreader events, this is still definitely the time to be quite vigilant (“probably, a maximum of 5,000 people will allowed into some of the venues!” the organizers tell us! (though last week it was “10,000”! ) Also; no one is legally required to have had the vaccine…..What? Duncan gets furious whenever he talks about this: It is all a form of total insanity that plenty of my friends here, enraged that profits for broadcasting rights and sponsorship deals are taking priority over the lives of the people in the country, are ranting and raving about like you wouldn’t imagine; people I know scrambling desperately to find somewhere they can get the injections before the virus is delivered to every corner of suburbia on the trains that go from the heart of Tokyo like arteries and veins into the surrounding cities, towns, and districts; one friend of mine fortunately lucky enough to have had a contact who got him in at the Swedish embassy even though he is Canadian. All quite shambolic and dangerous.
Anyway. I have tried. I like to think I am not an entirely selfish person. I have attempted to open windows on buses and trains wherever I can: I make sure my students are always wearing masks and as spaced out as is feasible, and I do worry about the populations at large, here, and back home in England and everywhere else as well. But there is only so much I can do. Right now, I am looking after my own household. I am concerned, but am just going to hold tight. Alone. I just want to sit here in silence, with the rain outside of my window; the pall of water and mist hanging over everything, and sit, with my slowly billowing patchouli incense.