Tuesday, September 30, 2014


I’m back in Japan, living in a traditional-tatami matted apartment, and it’s Sunday. The sound of chanting reaches me, as I rearrange my living space, yet again.

I’m trying to find the most logical order for things in my new apartment. I have two rooms this year, and one has a lovely sliding door to a fenced patio. It’s small enough that I can reach to hang my clothes from my living room. It’s not large enough for a table and chair, but that’s okay.

The light streams into this room in the morning, even though my curtains are shut. That wasn’t a problem the first morning because a cloud cover dimmed the sunrise. This morning, however, the sun rose without a cloud in the sky, and I realized that having my bed in this room would be a problem.

Why, you might ask, would a glorious sunrise be a problem? When it wakes me at 5:30 am, one whole hour before I wanted to even begin the thinking process, it’s a problem!

I had a cup of coffee and read a couple chapters on my Kindle, but soon the urge to rearrange over took me, and as I ate my breakfast, I began the process of moving my desk and chair, swapping out books for makeup, moving office supplies to one closet and clothes to another. My book bags and boots on the floor of a closet, and my bedding into another. Sounds pretty spacious, right? Wrong!

As I worked, I heard a familiar sound, one I heard last year when we visited temples in Tokyo or on Mt. Takao, the sound of a deep voice chanting. The authenticity seemed to ring like a bell, as I moved table and chair, rug and futon. All I lacked was incense to complete the mood.

I have the windows open. They let in a cool breeze. It also allows the serenity of the chanting to enter my space and fill my head with a calm that all Sundays should bring.

If I could sit in the lotus position, I would. I’d meditate on world peace, and let the chanting carry my mind to places with fresh air and the sound of running water. As it is, I sit in my chair and write. Another form of meditation, and a sense of calm is my reward.


Smells. They define a space, a place, an emotion. The smell of cotton candy and popcorn define a fair, and the smell of lavender can define relaxation.

Smells. The smells of travel can sometimes be exotic, inviting, but sometimes they can be overwhelming. That was exactly my experience at 35,000 feet on Delta flight DL167.

I flew from Seatac to Tokyo Japan, a ten hour flight, and halfway through the flight, I realized I would be living with a certain smell. What smell you ask? Well, let’s just say it’s one you don’t want following you around. It was the smell of urine. Lovely.

On long international flights like this one, I try to take a walk every two hours or so, and what better destination on a long flight than the restroom. The first two strolls were a refreshing relief. It felt good to stretch my legs. It wasn’t until the third trip that my nose was assaulted. By the forth trip, my nose burned, by the fifth, my eyes watered, and try as hard as I might, I could not hold my breath until I was done with my business. Thankfully the soap dispenser never ran out, or I would have panicked!

What dismayed me the most was that the odor seemed to follow me like a cloud. It came with me through the Narita airport, and onto the train to Tokyo. It was my shoes. I wanted to blame the woman sitting next to me, the man who walked down the isle, but I had to admit it finally. My soles were apparently absorbent enough to soak up the lovely aroma of flight DL167’s restroom.

It followed me onto the Narita Express bound for the Keio-Hachioji train. I couldn’t deny it. I smelled, but what could I do? I did what any self-respecting traveler would do. I closed my eyes, bowed my head, and pretended to be asleep. Ninety percent of all Japanese train riders do this, so I hid behind closed eyes.

Lucky for me, by the time we reached Kogakuin University, I had walked most of the smell off of my shoes, and my colleague, Dr. Aoki, didn’t notice anything at all! But best of all, I didn’t define my new apartment with the smell of urine. It smells of tatami mats, and that’s another more pleasant story.