TOKYO - I stepped out of the airport at past ten in the evening; the air was crisp and biting. I followed an old man in a worn-out blue coat to a waiting black van. He offered me a ride to Tokyo at a discounted rate.
I wondered, in the embrace of the cold evening, whether I walked the same steps more than twenty years ago when I first visited Japan. Nothing seemed familiar, not even the weather. And I thought I was in a place where memories would collide, memories held by a 13-year old girl in green, pink or brown pants or her seventh grade uniform. She spoke Japanese then, at least she tried after weeks of studying the language.
But now, more than twenty years later, I could hardly remember a thing, not even my broken Nihongo. Who was it who said that one can never go back to the same place ever?
Still, Japan enamored me the way it did the first time. I fell in love, all over again, with everything it had to offer. From its cold but kind weather -- the thermometer read seven degrees Celsius -- to its platters of sushi with wasabi-filled sauce.
I love the autumn leaves, too-- red, yellow, orange and the bright crimson sun that sets at 5 in the afternoon. I love the river cruise and the ice cold Asahi beer. I love the temples of forgotten times and age-old trees sprawled perfectly in a lush green garden, hidden in the middle of the bustling city.
I love breakfast at seven in the morning and long walks along its busy streets. I love the bowls of ramen and Japanese candies and the endless search for Kitkat Green Tea. I love those smoking rooms with mirrors all over, the efficient train system and Japanese time.
Japan is a memory of many, many years ago and of a visit a few weeks ago. It is different, yet it is the same. It is red autumn leaves and blue skies and quiet walks on cold evenings. It is good food and great beer but it is best of all, about being at home in a strange land, over and over, again and again, despite the passing of time.