Little plate breaks

I have a tea ritual in the morning. It’s not all that elaborate – not like what they get up to at the Dobra Tea Room in Burlington, Vermont where the tea menu is as thick as a phone book and the servers are quite stern about brewing times. Still, it’s my little ritual and it helps me start the day. I put the teabag in question (used to be Lady Grey, but now I’m trying to find something good that’s organic and fair trade) into my mug of preference (white, nice lip, doesn’t break your arm to lift), then I put a little plate on top and let it steep. I have several little plates, all about 4” in diameter, all bought when I lived in Japan in the mid-80s. They’re supposed to be for condiments, but I use them for tea. My two favorite were plain, no design, lovely fluted edges, one a gorgeous turquoise, one a luscious teal. I broke the teal a while ago. Today I broke the turquoise.

I lived in Japan – in Tokyo – for about 2 ½ years all told. I was intensely lonely much of the time and deliriously happy some of the time, convinced that I was doing something so wonderful that it could only lead to more and more wonderful things. I was learning Japanese, shunning the usual gaijin hang outs, insinuating myself into the counter culture of underground art and music. I was often the only gaijin at the lives I went to, sometimes with friends, but just as often all on my own. I can see myself in my pink 1960’s polyester dress, a string of pearls bouncing as I danced alone in front of the stage at a late-night performance of my all-time-favorite-band-which-none-of-you-has-probably-ever-heard-of, Rosa Luxembourg. The lead singer, Don’t, is wearing some irreverent kimono combination, his makeup smeared, faggy and glorious, and my sometimes boyfriend, Shigeo, the drummer, is going crazy. I guess other bands back then were taking traditional Japanese rhythms and folk tunes and combining them with rock, singing in Japanese, and going back to their roots in a modern way, but Rosa was the best. God, I loved going to see that band. I really felt like I was part of something, watching something unique and precious come into being.

Another band I used to go see in the 80s was The Blue Hearts. The other day, I came across a rather adorable film from a few years back called “Linda, Linda, Linda.” It’s about 4 girls in a high school band in Japan who are working on some Blue Hearts songs for a school festival. How odd to watch them learn songs I first heard back in Tokyo in small, smoky live houses, way before Hiroto and Mashi and the gang made it really, really big.

People used to ask me what I was going to “do” with my Japanese, meaning how was I going to use it to make money. My friend’s brother, for example, ended up pulling down a huge salary working for Japanese companies. Another friend became an expert translator. I was in Japan when manga and anime and Japanese bands were beginning to be popular in the U.S., but somehow, I missed the wave and didn’t end up “doing” anything. So now I know how to make miso soup, I’ve taught my boys a few useful Japanese phrases, I can eavesdrop on Japanese tourists, and I know a little more about the world than I did before I lived in Japan.

And I brought home a little plate, so turquoise, so soothing, such a lovely reminder of my youth, of Japan, of the smell of tatami, of the song of the sweet potato vendor, of being squished into a crowd of hot, miserable people on the subway and kind of getting off on it, of Don’t singing and sweating and screaming on stage. No more, no more. In her 90s, my grandmother used to ask my father plaintively, “How did I get to be so old?” It’s a puzzle, all right. Last year, after being able-bodied most of my life, I had major surgery on my arthritic hip so I could once more walk without pain. How in the world did that happen? How does any of it happen?

I have other little plates, even though I don’t like them as much. They have patterns on them, and are not as plain and soothing as my teal and my turquoise. Now that I have to use them all the time, though, maybe I’ll learn to like them. Maybe I’ll discover things about them I never would have known if I had gone on and on with just the turquoise, growing old together. This morning, as the little plate slid out of my hand onto the floor, I comforted myself, muttering, “It’s happened, now. It’s happened.” I kind of always knew it would.

Published in: on November 6, 2008 at 4:16 PM  Comments (1)  

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One CommentLeave a comment

  1. That was a nice, kinda touching, story you have there about your teal and turquoise little plates and your life in Japan as a youth. It must have been a wonderful experience to have you write about it after many many years. And I can relate to the bittersweet feeling of letting go of something we hold close to our hearts, even if it is just a plain old plate from long ago. Indeed, there are just some things that make up a big chunk of our lives without us fully realizing it until the time we have to say goodbye.

    As for getting old, we’re all on our way there so just hang on and enjoy the ride!

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