haibun
A Quarterly Journal of Contemporary English Language Haibun
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June 2006, vol 2 no 2

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Jim Kacian

Before the Bath

Mizzle will not deter the cyclists of Matsuyama. One may encounter them at any hour on any street, and in any weather—riders of all ages, in business suits and in tee-shirts, swarm the narrow streets, and the sidewalks of the major squares. Tonight they glide over the damp roads, leaving trails of treadmarks shining in the light of the red paper lanterns that mark the neighborhood taverns.

Along Minami Edo, the major road into the railway square, the sidewalk is torn up for gasline repairs. Traffic is heavy, despite the late hour, and pedestrians and cyclists alike are shunted onto a mud and gravel path alongside the road. At one particularly bumpy stretch, where pylons further constrict the flow of traffic, we scuttle aside to prevent a collision with an elderly cyclist who is moving too fast to avoid us.

While maintaining his speed, the old man executes a very deep bow, sustains it a moment over a series of bumps, then speeds off into the night. In the gloom of this evening, the gesture is barely observable, but the cyclist performs it anyway. It is the thing to do.

Back at the hotel, despite the hour the call of the onsen proves too great for me. I head up to the seventh floor, and when I get there, I have the place to myself.

all alone . . .
my thorough washing
before the bath


From the collection: Japan Sketches, Haibun from Travels in Japan