100 Books Project :: Japan

[Book #6 :: Near the Ginza, Tokyo April 14, 2009 and Miki Zambuni with her gorgeous creations, after receiving Book #7]

On my recent trip to Japan, I took a stack of books with me for the next round of my 100 Books Project.  I have yet to mention what it feels like to leave my books here and there surreptitiously, not to mention photograph them.  It is just nerve-wracking enough to give me a giddy thrill - I'm so worried that in the ever-so-slightly-paranoid state of our society someone is going to see me leave a package somewhere and think I am up to something untoward.  I had three books with me when I went to LAX's international terminal on the day of my flight to Japan, but only ended up leaving one behind (book #5) after hearing a repeated chorus of warnings against leaving any article, item, bag or belonging anywhere unattended in the airport.  I had visions of the bomb squad being called in to inspect a thin, square, brown paper wrapped item and then being arrested for breaking the mother of all airport rules.  In other words, I chickened out, and therefore took twice as many books overseas as I had originally intended.  But that's part of the fun - rolling with the unexpected twists, even if those twists are created by my wimping out.

Whatever concerns I had leaving the first five books out & about were multiplied by a hundred in Japan.  I mean - hel-LO - I am a 5'7" blonde in Tokyo...I stand out a little bit.  So my story repeated itself, and I only managed to leave a book behind in this particular manner once (book #6), in the basket of a turquoise blue bicycle near the Ginza, pictured above.

But my strategy for giving these gifts took a lovely turn quickly, and it happened without my even deciding this ahead of time.  A moment arrived, I made a spontaneous decision, and that became my method for the rest of my time in Japan.  I was in one of Tokyo's big department stores, Matsuya Ginza, and I came upon a display of jewelry that I couldn't pull myself away from.  The designer was not there, but the artist she was sharing her display with told me - in very broken English - that she would be back soon.  I hung around for a while longer, tried on a few pieces, and decided to be good and not buy anything.

As I began to walk away, I nearly bumped into the designer.  For some reason I knew it was her immediately, and began a conversation by gushing over her creations.  Within five minutes, I purchased one of her necklaces.We continued to talk for a while and I discovered her husband was from the U.K. - so her English was very good - that this was a temporary display at the department store, and she was moving on to another show that week.  That day was her last day at Matsuya.

As I reached into my purse to get my wallet, I looked down, saw my book, and decided in that instant that I wanted her to have one of these 100 books.  Without hesitating, I pulled it out, handed it to her and said, "This is for you!"  She was taken aback, and when I explained it was my book her eyes grew wide.  "Can I open it now?" she asked.  Within a few minutes she was looking through my book and I was showing her which pages had photos I had taken on previous trips to Japan.  As we stood together, she happened to flip open to the "beautiful ripple effect" page.  She read it, and when she was finished, she looked up at me with tears in her eyes.

Miki was sharing this display with another artist, and I couldn't cope with the idea of giving a book to Miki and not her friend.  I only had the one book with me, but more back at our hotel, so I told her I would go get another one and bring it back.  My arms were full of bags from my favorite stationery store in the Ginza anyway, so it was good timing.

Fast forward an hour later, and I was back with book #8 for the artist who creates these lovely treasures, who, unfortunately, I wasn't able to talk to because she was busy with customers.  (But I'm glad we couldn't speak because she was busy selling her creations!)  I was leaving the book with Miki, but before we said good-bye, she pulled out my book, already marked with post-it notes on her favorite pages.  I loved seeing which pages touched her most, and loved when she told me she had already called her husband telling him about our meeting, my book and our wonderfully sparkling moment.  When I got back home, I received an email from her that said, "I have been reading the book and lots of your words touch my heart and I especially like the collage.  During that exhibition a lot of foreigners came to my stall, but with you it felt like we were friends before, very easy to talk to you.  My friend said I looked very natural and happy when we were talking, so you made that exhibition very special for me."

This is one of the funnest things I've ever done.  More stories soon.