Writing In Public celebrates the art and intelligence of essays, online and in print.

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Places outside this world

Places outside this world

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Mutsuo Takahashi on those illusory towns that are everywhere and nowhere at the same time @ Cerise Press.
The first time I was ever visited by a sensation of something “outside of this world” was probably when I was in a train. I am not sure where I was going. Perhaps I was in the train going with Grandmother to visit my aunt in Yame-gun, or perhaps I was on my way to Shimonoseki to go meet Mother, accompanied by a young relative. In any case, I do remember that I had propped my chin on my hands, which were placed against the glass window, as I gazed absentmindedly out the window at the landscape which approached us with great speed from the front of the train then quickly retreated to the back. “If you keep looking out like that the whole time, you’ll get sick to your stomach and throw up.”

But I continued to look outside anyway. All sorts of things went by — telephone poles, stands for drying rice, and clumps of trees. The train was swallowed up in the darkness of a tunnel then spit out again. There was an interruption in the regular rhythm of the track, then we crossed a metal bridge.

All of the sudden, the train jerked and came to a halt. The conductor, who was wearing a railway uniform and cap, came around to where I could see him, made a strange face, and shouted, “Shingooo-machiii!”

What he was saying was “waiting” (machi) for a “stoplight” (shingō), but to me, it sounded like he was saying, “the town of Shingō” since the word machi also means “town.” I looked around hoping to see the landscape of a town. I looked for an ophthalmologist’s sign shaped like an eye with creased eyelid. I looked for a Japanese-style inn with water spread in front to keep the dust down and a dark, glass door to mark the entrance. I looked for a little girl wearing the brightly colored kimono you might see at the seven-five-three festival. Most importantly, I looked for the quaint station you might expect to find in a tiny town. I didn’t see any of these things, however. The only things that greeted my eyes were the cliffs created when the engineers cut the hills away for the train tracks and the dark, unpopulated rice fields that the farmers had created among the hills.
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