Memoir Monday: There and back again

by Nina Gee, Reporter

Bright green trees bloom against the cloudless blue sky, the luxuriant bush-like woods rising up behind the statue like hills. People of all different ages and ethnicities bustle around the rectangular stone base of the giant figure, phones held up to document their visits. A stout, tan-skinned Asian man stands near the center of the square, feet spread apart and his arms falling relaxed by the sides of his jean-clad legs. He has on a light gray T shirt, lined on the sleeves and shallow v-shaped neckline with a cream-colored stripe, which stands out strikingly against the dark, faded, now green-colored bronze statue resting peacefully behind him.

The statue is one of many in Japan depicting Buddha, his hands folded diligently in his lap and his legs crossed underneath them. His robe falls open over his smooth, bare chest, cascading down his shoulders and falling in a pile over his folded forearms. The Buddha’s face depicts peace, wisdom and age with his closed eyes and rain-worn temple. There are milky green streaks and patches where rain has washed away its luster and time has taken its toll. The silver stone resting between his thin, molded eyebrows is the only thing that remains untouched.

It was my first time in Japan at the time. Feet pounded on the steep, cement sidewalk in the rural shop district at Kamakura. I looked around in wonder at the wooden shops that were squeezed just barely into place lining the narrow streets, mesmerized by the smell of fried sweets mixing with the musky scent of dust filling the air.

“Too slow!” my dad yelled from the other side of the crosswalk.

Jolting out of my trance, I scurried across the street to the other other sidewalk, just as the crossing light turned red.

“Come on, hurry up! We don’t have all day!” my dad yelled back again.

“But Dad, we lost Mike,” I complained, attempting to bring attention to our tour guide whom we’d left behind several long minutes ago.

“No one cares about Mike!” he replied, power-walking to the next crosswalk.

I looked over my shoulder at my mother, who was hobbling several feet behind us and struggling with the steep incline. Then, choosing to abandon her and hoping she would find her way eventually, I turned and ran up the hill after my dad.

The shops grew scarcer and were slowly replaced by tall, elegant trees as the road turned to dust and stone rather than cement. I soon came to a flat clearing near the top of the hill which was shaded completely in an overhang of tall, thin trees. Having reached a plateau in the climb, I paused to catch my breath on one of the wooden benches scattered throughout the tiled clearing. My dad suddenly materialized in front of me, holding tickets to get to into the Buddha which he bought from the kiosk across the courtyard and grinning with a face that read “I’m really not going to wait”. Still not having seen my mother anywhere nearby, I sighed and pushed myself back up from the bench to follow my now running father, catching a glimpse of the statue’s tall hair through the trees as I looked up.

I caught sight of him again a few moments later, standing under a taupe-colored stone arch framed with two Japanese maples and their translucent, green leaves. We stepped under the arch, into the courtyard lying behind it and the world burst into light. People bustled around the courtyard, yelling to their friends over the unabating chatter, posing and taking pictures in front of the massive bronze Buddha that stood in the center of the square, taller than any of the trees that surrounded it. I gazed up in awe at the sunlight glinting off the curve of the Buddha’s head, having only heard stories of it from my father of when he was a child.

Looking at my father’s face, I saw that it was filled with nostalgia, much like the face he made when we first landed in Japan and he asked me to take a picture of his stepping foot in Japan for the first time in a long while. He was grinning like a kid in a candy store. I knew that the only reason he wanted to come back was so he could see this Buddha once again and take a picture in front of it, much like he did many years ago. I myself have never seen this picture, but my father has a picture in front of this Buddha that’s just like the one he asked me to take save for two things: one, it was in black and white, and two, he was six-years-old at the time. He always told me that sometime before he died, he’d want to come back and see this statue again to take another picture and compare it with the other one of him back then. Though I’ve heard the story a million times, it makes me nostalgic despite it not being my memory. I too have a picture in front of that giant Buddha statue, and hopefully when I go back to Kamakura I’ll take another one.