As we begin to mentally leave Japan (and our desks) behind for the golden green land of the Lao, Melissa and I have found ourselves drawn unexpectedly back towards the magical parts of this country which are found only in shadow, in a newly discovered ally, in places where you do not look for them. We made a night bike ride to the post office (which magically stays open late) to mail Christmas packages home and on our way back we took the deserted street of Earthen Houses, past the Bank of Red Brick, and into a tiny moment of Takaoka City where the cold night air heightens the smell of yakisoba and shouyou and draws from the warrens of crowded buildings the pique sent of pine like wood smoke clear into the air.
The night presents a sensory vision of a Japan long since built over and under by what one sees with his eyes. We found it before in Kyoto where you can see it as well as smell it: it was addictive, heady, full of life. You can experience it during that perfect moment in the climbing arc of the night when you find yourself rolling backwards laughing drunk on the tatami, or seeing in flashes from the road miniature shrines looking out from the forest, or on a long climb up a mountain finding shide paper hanging, zigzaged, from a tree marking that place not as a place marked for men, but for the gods themselves. The temptation of modernity to wipe clean the slate of tradition is strong in all countries and in Japan it is always painful to observe, yet on nights like last night, whistling through the silent night in a perfect pocket of “old” Japan, I get the feeling that no amount of concrete or steel can ever suppress that which the land secretes and the people absorb unconsciously.
The adventure begins tomorrow. Melissa and I are both packing light under the logic of less stuff is more freedom and less stuff equals more treasure to bring home. Neither of us really have any idea what awaits us in Bangkok Saturday night or in Laos for the next three weeks. That uncertainty is comforting, assuring of adventure, and in tune with the Lao spirit of taking it easy.