When the air gets cooler and autumn feels closer, I think of the days at that house with my friends. The room was so sunny that the tatami floor even smelled like the sun.
We sat and talked ramblingly, about love and such, while drinking coffee, yawning, and snacking on dried persimmon or steamed sweet potatoes, and leaving our hair still so messy. We were fussing over daily little mundane, and about what was to come in the future, but still being somewhat hopeful.
That small old apartment called “Hotate House 1” was located in the quiet area of Shinjuku, the west part of Tokyo. Although it says “House 1”, there is no other “House 2” or “House 3” anywhere in the area.
My friends K and R shared a room in the apartment. They have been friends since high school and got jobs in Tokyo, and started to live there. The building seemed at least 30 years old. After ten or fifteen steps up the narrow stairs, there was a small door. When you open the door, you first see a large kitchen, with a small window in front, and a brown tiled wall around it. The pans pots and ladle were hanging from the wall seeming like they were also in their 30s. Across the narrow hallway, there was a room with a tatami floor. In the middle of the room, there was a low square wooden table that was not too big nor too small.
Every visitor who was drawn to this house had sat at this table, drinking tea or coffee, eating, and relaxing. K and R invited everyone randomly and generously. And that made this house so comfy for everyone. The window with lots of sunlight was often kept open to get fresh air even in winter. The view from it looked warm and friendly, in contrast to the grumpy and grey office areas of Tokyo.
I started to come by Hotate house (meaning scallop house) in the autumn, when I had just started to work at a company that year. It was the very next day an early-summer romance came to an end, tastelessly. That Friday night, I was told by my ex “We should just be friends.” He said “Sorry” and said no more. So, we split.
I went to my house with my head blank. The heavy sensation of loneliness streamed into a little black hole in my heart, and it choked my throat. I managed to drink a glass of water, dropped the glass in the sink, and had tears shed. Then, my friend O texted me. “We’re gonna eat dinner at a friend’s house, come over.”
I felt so relieved. I crawled out of my room and wandered among several metros to get to Hotate house. When I opened the door, the smell of root vegetables being stewed and the steam from the pot tickled my nose. There were already three or four friends sitting in the room. One was reading a manga, one was repairing socks, and another was drinking tea.
K was stirring the pot and just said “Welcome.” That soothed me. When the meal was ready, someone cleaned the table, another one arranged the small bowls and chopsticks, and another one served the soup, and we just knew what to do. Like sisters sharing the housework.
K played Jack Johnson’s album at a low volume. The slight sound of bell-ringing cricket came in from the window. I heard the bowls and chopsticks touching softly, and everyone was munching quietly. I felt my throat ease and sipped the warm soup. Someone said something, then another one’s voice, then the voices became one big laughter later on.
Since that day, I came to go to Hotate house on Friday nights after work to eat with my friends. Some drank sake or beer, and some only took cups of tea or hot water. When we got full, no one dared to get up from the tatami floor. Then we spread out the futon mattresses on the floor and slept.
K was a nurse. So, she often went out to work on Saturday mornings. We slept in and stayed lazy in the room and soon it became afternoon. When she got back, we said, “welcome home!” and made her laugh. On a morning when everyone was off, we made a beautiful breakfast of fruit pancakes and fresh drip coffee.
The yellow leaves started to fall, and the wind was getting colder. Like sun-bathing cats, we sat closer in a sunnier part on the tatami and leaned our heads against the window of the white curtain. Then, we chatted about the recent failed dates, how not to text to the ex or not, the colleagues we loath, and the synchronicity of periods, and this and that.
Such insignificant things are the causes of our pain and our joy. We also exchanged our clothes, books, and CDs. The feeling that I share the little fragments of daily life with them made me feel somewhat secure. Someone said, “Let’s keep on sharing the meals, housework, and groceries with each other even after having families.” And we agreed. We also had an idea saying “If any of us were to live abroad, we gather there once a year.”
I felt us, or at least myself in those days trying to be “someone”. We loved our life, but there was the assumption that “it’s not gonna be the same forever.” Somewhere in our minds we pictured life in somewhere else. And we thought what we fussed about will be gone in the near future.
In fact, we scattered to different places after three or four years, for getting married, changing jobs, buying a house, and traveling abroad. R and K moved out from Hotate house. I don’t know if the apartment still exists.
It’s been more than ten years since those days. I quit my job at a company years before. After that I went on a journey to Asia, then Europe, and came back to Japan once, then went to Germany and lived there. The earnings were bigger back in those days. Tokyo doesn’t feel familiar anymore. It was so vague what “someone” I wanted to be, but I am pretty sure that I am not that “someone”.
How are my old friends doing? How do they feel about their life? I heard from them on the group chat. I knew that they are having a more stable life than mine. I hesitated to meet them as I am kind of ashamed of myself being rootless.
This autumn, we came to exchange texts frequently for a random reason. I got some money to travel, so I decided to visit K. She moved to Kyushu, the southern part of Japan seven years ago. It took half a day to get to her house on a small island. I flew from Narita Tokyo airport, took a bus to the city, and got on two ferries. As I stood on the deck looking out at the ocean, I remembered the trips we went on together.
The ferry arrived at the island where K lives with the twilight. She was waiting at the port with a scooter. As we arrived at her house, I can’t help shouting, “Isn’t this Hotate house?!” Because as I entered, I smelled something stewed and the tatami floor. Of course, the building itself is different. But the space inside was exactly the same. K has made that comfy place here, while she accustomed herself to this island.
As we ate dinner, we chatted about many different things. The sashimi of fresh white fish that K ordered from the neighbor fishmonger was so delicious. We started a video call with other friends. Again, the talks went on and on.
” We haven’t changed at all, have we?” I thought. But surely, we got older and wiser. Among the jokes we made, I felt our trust and care for each other had deepened.
Still, we fuss over things. Such things are a little different from those days. Interestingly, our complaints had a lot in common even though we have lived separately for years. Maybe, there is no such future with no fussing.
“But, what’s so bad about it?” If there are friends to talk to once in a while or ten-twenty years. I put another slice of the delicious fish and chewed slowly.