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You are a man on a train on a journey from Hell to Heaven but nowhere around you can you see the tracks, the carriage, the other passengers or the window, let alone the view from the window.
There is no awareness in you of the linear progression that your life follows.
So you pick up a novel and read of another man on another train and yet on the same journey and you realize then that you are a traveler too. You awaken.
This is the effect that a novel; a good novel, has on me.”
A Romantic Young Man in Japan
The plane flew into Osaka at the end of winter. He was nervous at immigration, as always, worrying that they would not let him in. He was entering on a tourist visa.
He intended to work but if he told them this then he would be refused entry. The system required that he pretend to be a tourist when he entered then he could find a job and sign a contract. With that contract in hand he would then leave the country and apply for a work visa from outside, on the basis of the job he then had, and finally a couple of months later he would be allowed to enter with the status that he had originally sought. It was a terrific waste of time but it was the only way. He had done it before.
It was already March but winter still lingered and the air outside the airport was bracing. Happily the bus came after a few minutes and he stowed his bag underneath then sank into the warmth of his seat as the bus carried him down the Meishin Expressway to Kyoto.
When he got to Kyoto Station, Ken humped his bag through the tunnel to the north end of the station then took another bus up Kawaramachi-dori and got off just before the Marutamachi corner. He found Uno House in the alley where he had remembered it.
He had stayed there when he first came to Japan seven years ago and he reflected now on what he had heard about how one’s cells were all replaced after a seven-year period, except brain cells. If it were true, then here he was, escaped from Australia again with a fresh body and ready for another stint in this city of temples and foreigners and mist.
If it were true. But it was not, he decided. He was not a new person. He was the same old Ken Saville, only now he was just a little older and a little more tired.
He spent the first few days visiting old haunts and sitting in those coffee shops and bars that he had frequented during his last stay in the old capitol. Many of the people he knew were still in town and he would read the papers by day looking for a job and studying the news, and then at night he would go out to the Pig and Whistle and lean on the bar, waiting for his old friends to turn up. Some had left. Some had left and come back. Some had married. Some had separated or divorced. Slowly he caught up on what had happened in the two and a half years that he had been away.
He was not keeping a diary at this stage. After he had left Indo-China and wandered back to Australia, his desire to record what was going on around him had waned and he had soon become submerged in the trivial day-to-day search for survival. Now that he was back in the city he loved so much, there was enough of interest going on around him that he felt moved to scribble things down in a notebook but he was not sure where to begin something longer like a diary or a story. He felt himself to be drifting and he struggled to anchor himself to something because he had been drifting for a long time and it had ceased to be pleasant.
On a Monday several days after he arrived, he walked up the river to Demachiyanagi and caught the Eizan line through Moto-Tanaka past the abattoir at Chayama and Ichijoji then on to Shugakuin at the north east end of the city. There was a cafe called Speak Easy, which had been a major hangout in the old days and he remembered the cheap well-cooked bacon and eggs, the free coffee refills and English newspapers and the chance of an interesting conversation with some passing foreigner.
Monday was the day when English teaching jobs were advertised in the Japan Times and April was the month when new terms and new contracts started. He was in the right place at the right time.
He flipped through the classifieds while he ate but most of the jobs were in Tokyo. There was hardly anything in the Kansai area and what was there was teaching little kids.
Ken wanted to teach English conversation to adults. The thought of going through the alphabet “A is for apple, B is for banana, C is for cat” every day with little kids struck him as more like baby-sitting than teaching English. But there was nothing else. That was it then. He would have to wait a whole week for the next paper, hoping that there would be something for him in that one.
Resignedly he closed the paper and gazed out the window. A stocky looking American entered. Ken knew him from before but had forgotten his name. They nodded to each other.
“You were here before weren’t you?” said the American, sliding onto the bench at the table next to Ken.
“Yeah” said Ken. “I’ve been out for a couple of years. I just got back a few days ago. I’m looking for work. Do you know of anything?”
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