Overwhelmed, I take a break and as recommended, walk into the restaurant Ashiya. Like in France, it’s Lyon and not Paris, in Japan, Kyoto cuisine shines over that of Tokyo’s. And the must of the must is to have a Kobe beef at Ashiya in Kyoto. So I do. The place is totally mobbed. But they find a place for me at the bar. It’s crowded and it’s loud and it sizzles with the delicious fragrance of the meat searing on the hot metal plates. Even though I am shocked at the price tag of US$ 30.- for a tinny tiny peace of a Filet Mignon – back in 1979 when the hefty T-bone steak in the US cost about $6.-, I would not let pass perhaps once in a life chance of tasting a Kobe steak at Ashiya in Kyoto. So tender it slithers down my throat like a fresh chilled oyster. I love it.

Back to strolling the alleys, I can’t help but think of Beauty and Sadness. And of  Otoko and Keiko. As if they were real people and not the characters in Kawbata’s novel. I expect them any moment to emerge out of one of those hundreds of Geishas going about their business through those narrow pedestrian streets. I find something about their real existence mysterious. And then it occurs to me, even if Otoko and Keiko did exist and the novel was based on the real Geishas, what were the chances that they would still be around? And if they are, Otoko certainly would be very very old, but Keiko could still be in circulation. They could even be dead!

The thought nudges me into a nostalgic state of mind. Up until then, the little that I know of this mysterious land, I can’t help but see lingering behind the reticence of the Japanese character a certain shade of melancholy. Not just a mask, but something deeper, something inherent in their being.

As much life and the noise and the hubbub that swirl around me, there is something about the narrowness of the streets, smallness of the shops on the either side and their grey-brown tiled roofs all seem to give me an eerie feeling – the melancholic slippery sweetness of the dark wildflower honey. Other than the slight sliver of the sky up above, the solid stone tiles on the ground and the shops so close across from each other give me a feeling of a cocoon closing in – wrapped inside is a sleeping dead body and the soul, still inhabiting the earth, luxuriating in the ultimate slumber. What a morbid image? Why am I thinking of death?

Perhaps the answer lay in the ending of Beauty and Sadness, which I finish reading the next day on my train ride back to Tokyo. How does Kawabata deal with his four characters all curled up in one single web of loving? Simple! What if one of them were to have an accident and die?

The more I read and get to know of Japan, the more I get a feeling that the Japanese are preoccupied with death – like most Indians are, especially when it comes to the matters of the heart. I fail to see any glory in death. As inevitable as it is, it should be as natural as the birth. I can’t see inducing an end to life. Of the two Japanese authors I have read so far, both committed suicide. In November of 1970, Yukio Mishima committed the ritual Seppuku of carving out his own abdomen with a sharp knife and letting his disemboweled entrails hang out like blood soaked slithery snakes.

Pages: 1 2 3 4 5