Drawn in by bright red posts festooned with crimson maple leaves arching over a covered street, I decide to follow wherever it leads. Japan has many shotengai like it, covered avenues filled with tiny shops of every sort. From inside proprietors call out irasshaimase! That’s welcome with the underpinning imperative root, come! Here on Asakusa’s Hisago-dori I serendipitously discover The Edo Shitamachi Traditional Craft Museum. Also known as Gallery Takumi, the elegant two-storey building of wood and glass showcases numerous traditional crafts of the Taito region.
As I mount the stairs I remove my glasses to study the textiles lining the stairwell more closely. Three smartly-dressed Japanese women following me discuss the samples. I wish I understood them. I could learn much. Their eyes meet mine and I nod in acknowledgement. Sugoi ne? I say.
Immediately their eyes brighten, and one asks whether I speak Japanese. Alas, no. I’m reduced to saying that I don’t speak or understand well. Do they speak English? No. They ask where I am from. That I can answer. After that we’re stuck. My few phrases aren’t up to this.
Right there on the step, smiling at each other we all share a palpable regret. Unable to communicate about a common interest or engage in the mutual curiosity our chance encounter has aroused, all I can say is I’m sorry. After numerous smiles and bows on both sides we move along.
Now I carry a companion I didn’t have before—a hollow heavy with longing.