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Canadian Coffee


Find the place overlooking a stream; the sakura trees tall and orderly along the stream; later a man in a mask will walk under the trees on the other side of the stream, right to left, and I will snap a photo of the man as he passes; and there is a sign beside a concrete bridge that crosses the stream; the man I mentioned earlier in his walking will walk past this sign and turn and walk away from the concrete bridge, remove his mask, only to apply it again when the light changes and he crosses the street; the bridge says “Kotta-Gawa,” literally and in kanji (乞田川). Guess I’ve given it up: I am in Tama, or Tama-shi, or 多摩市, west of the ultra-metropolitan Tokyo, that home that is not a home; I am in a café. The place is called Canadian Coffee.[1]

I don’t know why the place is called what it’s called. Canadian Coffee. Nothing about it is particularly Canadian. Unless we mean to think of “quiet” and “peaceful” as Canadian as “sudden happening of violent gun-death” is American; if so, we can think of this café as very Canadian indeed; or, let’s keep it simple: Japanese. Or at least totally Un-American. In any case, the place is clean and well-lighted, and a boon to a day that had threatened to rain. There was thunder in the distance as I stepped outside, and the news broadcasted a wet and sploshy Tokyo; but, despite said threats, our day, mine and everyone’s in Tama-shi, will remain dry (and gloomy and grey).

The inside of the place is—and though it’d be cliché to invoke something from Studio Ghibli, like, say, perhaps, Whisper of the Heart/耳をすませば (1995), but it was really like that—a small, wood-brown, European tavern-space, Canadian Coffee is. The building’s exterior is curved and colored such that through memory it impresses on me the image of a barrel. Back inside a siphon, tall and complicated and brass and alchemic—it looks more like something to do with potions than coffee—sits studiously on the bar, where a woman works, short and short-haired, seemingly the patient proprietor of the place. Jazz plays overhead. Lamplight allows sunset hues, it will be sepia in my mind’s eye’s recollection. There is a warmth here that must be noted: here, noted. Familiar and calm. Homey, even. I am, metaphorically and literally, home. A home that is not a home.

To be clear, I mean home with an asterisk; I was born in Japan and I did some growing up in Tama-shi, but I am American, been made American, and I won’t try to deny this here or elsewhere.—The hilarious part is that I’m not even Japanese, but never mind that!—And yet, Japan is my origin, my zeropoint (in a similar sense that Byung-Chul Han considers Germany his “spiritual home”), English was not my first language (but it is now basically my only language; my Japanese has become next to nil), and so like how our lives are shaped by anthropology,[2] I am a palimpsest, looking backward. And so, in looking back, I am back, albeit as a tourist, a privileged bug: I am here. Canadian Coffee, something like a ten minute walk from Keiō-Nagayama Station, or just 京王永山.

Listen to the clink of metal and ceramic—(ting! ting!)[3]—the short-haired woman sets down coffee on a saucer: Canadian blend, the house coffee. It is placed with a packet of creamer. I sip it first, the coffee, as is: good shit. I apply the creamer so as not to waste the short-haired woman’s gesture of having placed it, the creamer: some more good shit. Let this sentence here be a snap-record of a smile, fragile and sudden and absolute, a genuine smile on a real face, and I capture this on my digital camera. The man from before finally enters into frame, walking along the stream, walking away from the bridge, and I capture him too. And before I forget: I must will a Proustian quality to Canadian Coffee’s house coffee’s aroma, should I ever return, hopefully and soon. (And the cake! It’s a normal, sweet—but not too sweet—chocolate cake. But still worth writing home about—again, metaphorically/literally—nonetheless!)

Okay, fine. I must come clean again. I am not alone here. I am joined by two others: the captured digital smile, uploaded and rendered here in prose, was of my sister’s; and, because my aunt mentioned that Canadian Coffee had been around well before my becoming corporeal and not just my folks’ once-distant abstraction, and that she, my aunt, had never even been inside the place before (“No reason to go,” she’d said.); such a wrong, in my (and my sister’s) eyes, needed to be righted, basically immediately, kicking her out the door to take us there if we had to; and so we went, kicking, despite the threatening weather, not even a five-minute walk from our apartment;[4] and this should explain why I would even bother to mention any smile (for why would I mention and capture my own? and besides, no one ever knows they’re smiling when they do it, which is why I captured my sister’s in the first place, saccharine or not) and how we manage to order coffee and cake without incident (my aunt is fluent in Japanese, I am embarrassingly not).

And now we must leave; as stated on the menu (according to my aunt), we are not to stay too long, to mind others and let them have a go at this place; so dutifully we will do so. There are only some others in here with us: two men, one older and one not so much; and of course the short-haired probably-proprietor. We pay and leave, and we snap some more shots, standing in front of the building. Some kind of proof, however digital it may be. We linger round the porch, our talk sounding like buzzing insects.

So what’s next? My aunt considers going to the station, which we do (groceries for dinner and such; killing time at the arcade and second-hand clothing shop and bookstore, the layout of the department store being next to the station is nostalgic and overwhelming and huge even to my American eyes), and considering also nearby is the local library, we go there too. The place is full and all the people in it are reading. I flip through a book on Hiroshima, the pictures are ashy-grey and somber. The library (and the connecting cafeteria and event center, where a showcase is being held, charcoal nudes made available for anyone of any age to view up close, except for me of course, since as soon as the artist, a middle-aged woman, notices me and is about to speak I turn and walk away, back toward the cafeteria, so I glance at the art from afar) overlook a plaza, where my aunt says I used to play. I snap a picture here too, because you’re not allowed to in the library. The air is charged and the clouds are fat and want to rain, but they do not. I jot down these details only to clarify the image and further solidify my fidelity to this Event of my Being Here, Being Back. Sights and sounds; smells (a sense all-too-forgotten in written pieces like these), and so on. Our sense organs are wounds upon which the world cuts deeper and deeper.

Nothing else to do now. It is now officially dark, clouds or no, and we start the walk home. We stop at a convenience store by the station because I only now notice that I’d left our umbrella at Canadian Coffee. We get one, an umbrella, just in case. We also pick up too much bread and other pastries. On the walk back things are becoming familiar, like reacquainting oneself with childhood friends, now older: the river, of course; but also the fire station; the Chinese restaurant; the pachinko parlor; my old preschool, or 幼稚園; the park where I also, apparently, used to play. My aunt points out other places, how things there have changed. “There used to be a bar here,” she says, pointing out what is now just an office, inside the lights are dim and boxes are ceiling-stacked, “Or was it a hair salon? It’s been too long.” Places like this, places where it has been too long.

It has been too long. And soon I’ll have to leave and then be an American again, a foreigner among other foreigners. (But are we not foreigners no matter where we go?) And this place, this Tama-shi in 2023, has become foreign also, a home that is not a home. I can only make new memories with this new Tama-shi, the Tama-shi that is new to me.[5] Immortalize and memorialize the few mundane things I can remember, to hold on to, good coffee on my tongue. Do the best I can, in these few scant pages, these sketches and scrawls.

I walk home. I imagine my relationship to this place if I’d never left, never went to the U.S. of A. and called there Home. How differently would I have turned out? What books would I have read instead? Tanizaki/谷崎 in his original Japanese, Dostoevsky translated in yet another language? Would I have read guys like Updike or McCarthy or Hemingway, or know them at all? If language “speaks” a subject, how would the Japanese language “say” me? If I’d never left, how often would I have had coffee here, in this place, Canadian Coffee? Well, it’s all hypothetical now, a fiction, it cannot be anything but. Like this essay here, slow and naturally otiose, and maybe a little too precious and cute (but oh well), once certain details are compressed and distorted through memory, even with picture proof, the camera’s wielder is in-themselves a distorted subject—Maybe it really did rain,[6] handed masks to some of the characters here, among other distortions; I just want to make a good day better!—without realizing it, I’ve already messed this all up; it is just another story. Something I can go in and fuck around with the details with. But no use dwelling on it now. Perhaps one day I’ll call this town Home again in a proper sense, a home that is in fact a home. Or is that another fiction? The best I can do is tell you about this day, about this place (and then later, stateside, I will pick back up my language-learning studies, textbooks pages dusty and stale no more).

See the man;[7] he crosses the street again. I take his picture. He doesn’t know he is here, now, with me, in Canadian Coffee. And, like a child who plays too roughly with her toys, the man lifts into the air as if by strings, and explodes.


[1] On the side of the building itself are displayed the words COFFEE SHOP, while on the front sign the name is written in katakana and then COFFEE SHOP, so カナディアン COFFEE SHOP, and above the door is the words CANADIAN COF— because in the one and only picture I have of myself standing in front of the café a curtain is blocking the remaining signage, so I can’t say for sure whether or not it continues as CANADIAN COFFEE SHOP, and I don’t want to assume, so for our purposes, and because this will be how I remember it later, I will refer to the café as simply Canadian Coffee.

[2] Here I am shamelessly remixing a line from a John Updike short story, from another American: “Our lives submit to archaeology.”

[3] Borrowed—again, shamelessly—from the novel “Kitchen” or キッチン by Yoshimoto Banana or 吉本ばなな; it is something of an aesthetic guiding light for me, among others.

[4] The same apartment from my too-young-to-remember days, or at least the same building (the original apartment was on the first floor, during our visit we’re staying with our aunt on the fifth). The people who own the building, S-san and his wife, are good friends of my folks (and my aunt). I do not know what they do. All I know is that they “manage property” and have almost too many flights to Hawaii. This somehow (and simultaneously) livens and deadens any journalistic instinct I may have, which is already so little; because part of me wants to dig deeper, and a much larger part might regret what I find out. But I can tell you this: they have been very kind and accommodating.

[5] To insert an obvious quote from Heraclitus: “No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it's not the same river and he's not the same man.” Of course!

[6] It really didn’t, though (but now I can’t remember).

[7] Not really a reference to “Blood Meridian,” because what would it add to do so?


About the Writer:

CX is doing what they can. All of their writing-things can be found also on Many Masks Press, and other places like other places.


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