Sunday, September 13, 2009

Tokyo in Philadelphia

My daughte
r is in love with all things Japanese: kimonos and manga, onigiri and pocky, picnics beneath the cherry blossoms and cosplay.

Her interest has taught us a new vocabulary -- otaku, j-pop, mochi (among many others). It’s also taken us places – Sakura Sunday in Fairmount Park (those are my daughter’s photos from Sakura Sunday two years ago at the top of this post) and the East Coast’s largest Japanese bookstore, Kinokuniya, in New York City to name just two. It has not yet, alas, taken us to Japan itself.

Her enthusiasm for the culture has even prompted her to choose to study Japanese in her first year of high school. Now, in addition to watching Hayao Miyazaki’s films together, we spend time as a family trying to figure how our names should be written in hiragana and katakana.

It all kind of makes my head spin.

A few days before the new school year started, my daughter came into Philadelphia with me for a half-day of school shopping. In addition to getting clothing you just don’t see at suburban malls, I planned to take her to lunch at a little Japanese eatery on Chestnut between 17th and 18th (the Tokyo of this post’s title and photo here) and to introduce her to Philly’s touristy-but-still-alternative South Street. Despite the rain that cut short the South Street portion of the day, it was great fun.

It was also an eye-opener.

I’ve commuted into Center City five days a week for the past five years -- the details of the trek have long ago faded from my notice. But I was with a fresh pair of eyes. Those eyes took in the pair of young violinists playing at the train station during the morning rush hour. They noticed a lush little park tucked between buildings I’d overlooked every other time I’d been down that street. Her eyes registered the artistry of the julienned vegetables garnishing her lunch and the beauty in dozens of things I’ve seen daily without noting them.

Hmmm. Is this something my daughter has picked up because of her love of a culture that seems to attend to the moment? Or is it her own artist’s temperament that makes her more observant? Or both?

But maybe those aren’t the questions I need to ask.

When did life start to move so fast that I can’t observe its little beauties?

When did the noise of tasks that need to be completed, and places I need to be, drown out the music played as both gift and petition?

When did I stop noticing?

It is a gift to spend days with one for whom the moments are still full of art.

It’s a gift to have a daughter with fresh eyes.

Morning-misted street …
With white ink an artist brushes
A dream of people.

-- Buson (Japanese poet and painter of the Edo period.)

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