At the discount supermarket beside the station, a mounted television screen plays the video of Mariah Carey’s Christmas classic on repeat. A shopping basket made of peach-colored plastic looped around my elbow, I pause to contemplate the image for a moment. A 90’s Mariah in red velvet plays in snow while I watch her almost twenty years later, on a dark Saturday afternoon in suburban Tokyo. There’s something about this instant: shopping for groceries by myself, a girl in tennis shoes with no weekend plans and no future goals, that feels like a revelation midwifed by loneliness. I buy toilet paper, oranges from Ehime, and instant miso soup containing dehydrated pork and a foil packet of monosodium glutamate. As I’m leaving, I suddenly hear and feel thunder, so close and so physical my mind leaps from my body. It takes me a second to recognize that the sound is not coming from outside, but from the thudding of bowling balls against the synthetic wood lanes of the alley on the second floor above the supermarket.
Lately, out of a desire to occupy my thoughts with something other than fear, I’ve been reading the books left on my living room shelf by previous tenants. At least one left behind required reading from an art history course, a fact revealed by the content of the texts: The thoughts of W.H. Auden, the letters of Van Gogh, and several dense analyses on art itself. On the train into Tokyo, I read thinkpieces about the purpose of art, the nature of its operations, and the effect of its manipulations on the mind and the emotions. I am not sure if I can comment meaningfully on such pieces without engaging with, and thus succumbing to, their trap: that any one person can dissect the feeling of feeling.
The feeling of feeling. If I overthink this, I start to panic. Perhaps panic isn’t the right word; “unravel” might be a better one. A human in a human world, I know I feel every animal sensation: disgust, hunger, pain. What does it feel like to feel the loftier, cortical emotions? I have never been sure I understand love, spirituality, or art, which may be the three vertices that make up the geometry of truly higher-order apes.
Across from me in the subway car sits a young man in heeled boots, an alpaca wool shawl in blue, red, and mustard, and a silver necklace with a flat, round pendant, in the style of a saint’s medallion. I think of an illustrator friend, and how her descriptions were submerged in the language of art, suggesting an alternate way of seeing: a woman’s head “shaped like a hot air balloon,” the skin on the cheek shaded in “pinky-purple.” I try to recast the young man in her eyes and come up with a poor, but honest, imitation of her vision: uncommon colors, unusual lighting. A prophet from the era of fast fashion, scrolling through a chat screen. Though I’ve long since lost touch with my artist friend, in these instances, her mode of perception still manages to echo through my mind. It comforts me to finally understand that she, like every individual to enter and momentarily wander through my life, has sewn a thread through me that can never fray thin. A drop of rain always remembers the ocean from whence it came.
In the northernmost of Japan’s main islands, I watch as Strawberry witnesses snowfall for the first time. On the eighth floor of a department store, he pulls out his phone to film the snow coming down on the unremarkable street below. His movements as he walks along the window, gently angling the camera to capture the fullest extent of the scenery below, are full of a natural, breathless tenderness, like the beats of a winged insect settling on a flower. We play outside in the snow, and, with total absorption and entirely no embarrassment, he builds a tiny snowman with mouse ears made from dry leaves. I am reminded of the undisguised rapture of childhood games, but filtered through a new layer of adult consciousness. The wind feels like it could pick me up from off the ground. Snow, piled up against the curbs, glows like a halo. The day progresses into soft blue and golden apricot, littered by an arc of reflective clouds.