On Friday morning the weather was cold and wet. We readied to leave for work half an hour before departure, the two of us dealing out rain gear and debating the need for boots. I was going to meet Emmett at the train station after work and then off to Kyoto with us! We were celebrating our fourth anniversary. Four years of solid high fives, dancing in the kitchen, making instruments out of empty containers, packing and moving, making homes, making food, making friends, and participating in spontaneous a capella eruptions of Joanna Newsom’s “Bridges and Balloons.” Leaving the house, Emmett said, “Our adventure begins tonight!” I summoned Cary Grant, “Our adventure began four years ago.”
In the afternoon, I rode home to get my bag in relative sunlight, but when I remounted just 10 minutes later, I fought to stay upright in the wind. The rain was so cold and sharp, it shocked my lips and cheeks. So often my destination involves Emmett, it’s understandable that a proportionate amount of these journeys are perilous. The final legs of exhausting hikes, hitchhiking home from Stearns county, thousand mile drives, one extremely hungover plane flight, and dark rides home in the snow after koto lessons have all resulted in an Emmett finale. While en route, I usually meditate on that fact. This time he met me with two tickets for Kyoto and a bottle of Tateyama Sake, or, Old Faithful, as we call it on the sake aisle.
Boarding the train for Kyoto makes us a strange sort of giddy. Like the kind that makes you elated just to be standing in the bathroom area because you didn’t splurge on reserved seats and the non-reserved car is full. Just before the Kanazawa stop, I went back to scope out the non-reserved car. Thanks to a little conspiratorial help from another passenger, a business man with great English, we snagged two seats together, broke out Old Faithful and the peanut butter and jelly sandwiches I’d packed for us. “Vacation!” we toasted, Emmett with the bottle and me with the cap. Our new friend asked how long we would be in Kyoto and we told him just for the weekend. He said, “Oh,” (not his idea of a vacation), and then nodded and finished with “Nice,” and remembered to smile. He was from Kyoto, traveling home from Tokyo. When he told me where he lived I barely contained the elementary school exclamatory that might not have translated across cultures, “Luckeeeeeeeeee!” Because it’s meant more like an accusation. Hours later we stepped out of the train station in Kyoto and mused, “Tall buildings with lights!” We were not in Takaoka anymore.
Sure, our “Vacation!” would be brief, but we had a game plan: A walking tour tonight through Pontochō to find Cafe 844 and it’s famed vegetable gyoza! Then bikes and gardens Saturday, and bikes and museums Sunday. But the main idea had been to hit the ground running, have gyoza and then hit the bars. We put our stuff down in the hostel and immediately set out on foot. We walked briskly in the cold dodging the surprise drops of rain and marveling at the city.
Kyoto is a river city unlike those I have met. In the north of the city, the Takano River joins the Kamo River and its tributary ditches are directed like canals along residential alleyways, quaint streets, and night districts, so that buildings meet water. Adding to this Venetian feel, alleys in the Pontochō district fold into themselves, and people looking for a small cafe with vegetarian gyoza might ask themselves a few times if they are walking in circles or if the cafe exists at all. At last we learned that, in the words of the host next door, “844 crashed.” Oh no! It sounded violent. We marched on for the sake of our bellies, eying ramen bars, Rumbita’s Musica Latina, Bottles Bar, and other well lighted, solid-wood interiors we could’ve stood to throw a few back in. But walking, exploring and wondering what next ruckus we might stumble upon, alas, is too fun.
We walked from ten to shortly after midnight. When our meandering and dark alley choosing brought us finally to a main artery, we stepped into an F-Mart, a surprisingly well outfitted grocery, and bought ramen, strawberries because they smelled so good, and Kyoto Asahi Beer. Our plans to barhop dissolved into bowls of ramen, two cans of Asahi, and a private room. Warm again, and with food before us, watching Gustavo Dudamel madly conducting a concert in Tokyo on the tiny TV, I felt that same sort of giddyness I had leaving the platform in Takaoka. It’s the stuff of second winds, the filling of empty bellies, the resting of tired legs, a journey completed and met with the interminable sensation that the next adventure is always just beginning.