I say this looking over my shoulder at the little girl who is Japanese, maybe four or five years old and has climbed a few feet up a big tree and has turned around to look at us.
She’s posing for the camera.
We wondered into the Hanazono shrine area after a long, relaxing dinner at an Italian place near by. It was a good dinner although the fettuccine was a little under cooked but the peperoni ripieni was very good. The bottle of Riesling we both shared was good too.
The street outside in Shinjuku san-chome was busy. It’s Saturday after all and people are everywhere. It was her idea to go to the shrine. She told me she had noticed the festival when she was shopping, before we met for dinner, and so we went over.
The table we are at now, well, it’s just an old table and it’s yellow. Although the festival seems legitimate it pales in comparison to the now infamous Harvest festival, held here at the same shrine in Shinjuku sandwiched between posh shopping options on one end and a notorious red light district on the other, which stretches for blocks down the street in every direction.
This festival is more standard, maybe. The festivities are contained within the actual grounds of the shrine and there is a distinct lack of well dressed hoodlums. There are kids playing around and a woman walked by us earlier wearing an arm band that read “PTA”; her face was anxious not because of a criminal presence or an overwhelming number of off-the-clock working girls but because some boy, possibly her own, was preparing to attempt a back flip off the edge of a blood red park bench.
Bad ideas do not exist in the ten year old mind.
Now, seated here sipping a chu-hai from a typical plastic events cup, I smile at the little girl posing on the tree behind me. She just flicks her hair out of her eyes and stares. Her family, all the generations that make it up as far as I can tell, are busy performing some function involved with the running of this yakitori stand that we are sitting at. A woman in her late thirties with a baby strapped to her chest is showing people where to sit and is selling cans of Asahi beer and Lemon and Grapefruit Chu-hais out of a big old cooler full of ice water. A chubby fifteen year old boy is turning sticks of roasted chicken chunks over on an old grill. Another woman, perhaps in her late twenties, is sitting at the old greasy fold out table next to us and is chatting with two other women, the same age, one with short dyed blonde hair and half a dozen piercings in her ear and the other with her hair tied up in a bun and wearing the kind of cheap, young fashions you’d expect to see a lot of at a carnival in Riverside California or maybe at some bowling alley in Brookline Mass. Gaudy might not be the best word, but it’s the one that comes to mind.
The three of them are chatting away and playing with a little boy, maybe two years old, who is wearing a jinbei or little shorts and jacket set, sort of like pajamas, with a dragon emblazoned on the back.
He is playing with a red ball on the ground near the tables and he looks at me and just seems confused.
I can empathize with that feeling. So, I look over again to where the little girl was but she’s gone now and there is just the lonely big tree. I turn back around to the woman holding the camera and tell her again “Happy Birthday, baby.”
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