Thursday, April 23, 2009


I’ll pray first, I thought, and walked up Kagurazaka-dori toward the shrine. I’d been away a year. The fugu shop, I saw, was out of business now, men carted out its wooden innards and loaded them on trucks. The pachinko parlor had been redone in shriven white. At the top of the hill I turned – and stopped. The shrine was gone.

Years ago, I went out to buy a computer cord and came home to find my apartment torn apart. I stood in my doorway, cord in hand, looking around for my computer. I nearly called out for it, like a man who’d lost his dog. It took a long time for me to understand that I’d been robbed.

In Tokyo there are many shrines, but, to me, Akagi always seemed the most alive, as evidenced by the non-stop flow of visitors stopping by to pray. Young mothers dropping off their children at kindergarten, old men out walking, each pausing for a few words, to clap and bow at the orange shrine among its shady grove of trees. For years I visited every Wednesday morning. I felt so welcome.

You’ll think I’m nuts. My first thought was that the shrine had to be somewhere. It’s crouched behind the tin wall, I thought. Like a child playing hide and seek.

But there was only a dump truck and a few dusty men wearing helmets -- as if there were anything left to fall.

I’d never seen an empty space so full: as shocking as the space at the end of my wrist if my hand were gone. I thought the workmen must go home and drink whiskey and beat their wives and not know why.

I am prey to a common form of idiocy, which assumes some things are so obviously special, so obviously important, that of course they will not be destroyed. What a dummy I am. I assume that there is nothing I can do. I assume it is a loss I can afford.

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