How do you live?

Russule Mushrooms

I'm sitting in front of the TV in my tiny room for foreign students, 200 kilometers from Tokyo and thousands from Tashkent, fascinated by some program teaching Russian to the Japanese which I’ve stumbled across by accident.

I’ve been here for 6 months now, all this time without uttering a word in Russian, completely immersed in the language and the culture of this country of mountainous paths. It is supposed to be a dream come true: my window faces a Shinto temple, I have a comfortable allowance with plenty of Yen zeros after the 1 in my pocket, and the bright future which I had talked about for so long with my fellow students is finally just around the corner, muffled up in a cozy kimono.

Once you hear cicadas chirping in bamboo thickets which immediately takes you to the summer in Tashkent
But here I am sitting and watching this language program from the 1980s about a couple from Moscow that had invited a student from Riga to their dacha to gather russules (edible mushrooms), and it bothers me more than anything else in the world. They do these funny dialogues and then syllabize each phrase, while you read transcriptions in a phonetic alphabet called kana. When they repeat the word rus-su-les once again, I feel a burning, pearl-sized tear roll down my cheek. Suddenly I realize that I have an irresistible craving for russules, though I have never tried them. I want to go to a dacha and talk about russules and a thousand other things in my mother tongue, surrounded by the familiar sights. I want to go back to Tashkent — to be dreaming with my friends of going to marvelous Japan! I want to take long night walks in dimly lit wide alleys among the whispers of ancient sycamore trees, where you can argue about Murakami and the Nobel Prize that he never got until you are blue in the face. The Japanese rarely argue about Murakami at all. They seem to prefer Leo Tolstoy.

Step by step, russules take me deep down memory lane. Sometimes you’ll go into a supermarket and there, among the dried octopuses, cuttlefish and other marvels, you’ll suddenly see sunflower seeds for sale. And in the blink of an eye you are once again a small sun-kissed boy in a field, holding a freshly culled giant sunflower that feels like eternity in your hand.

Or you might hear cicadas chirping in bamboo thickets on your way home from lectures which immediately takes you to the summer in Tashkent: you can see an open window with a mosquito net, you can feel the light morning breeze, and you can hear turtledoves twittering and starlings fussing about. And in the yard, hidden in the shadow near the water-channel, sit a burly melon seller and a mute shoemaker, one with a heap of unsold melons behind his back, and the other with a pile of unrepaired sandals and shoes. Both, however, are busy doing something way more important: they are playing backgammon. There is magic in that, and for a moment the melon seller and the shoemaker indeed become the guardians of the summer…

This and a swarm of other memories about Tashkent follow you like a shadow and give you no peace once you leave the city even for a while. This city is like a source of special waves constantly overwhelming your heart. It reminds you of itself with inner sadness and makes you want to go back.
There is a term in Japanese literature, “mono no aware”, which can be translated as “the poignancy of things”. What it means is to see big things through small ones and to perceive their transient beauty. And here is a paradox for you. No matter how much I read about it and tried to understand it rationally, I couldn’t grasp its real meaning. I understood this principle only later — not with my brain, but with my heart — during these strange times when I delved in memories about, and unexpected associations with, my hometown, while being thousands of kilometers away from it. Tashkent the poignant — that’s what I call it now.

© Ashot Danielyan

Ashot Danielyan

is a philologist specializing in Japanese and a translator from Japanese. Since 2009, he has been involved in the project of the Japanese government for development of human resources in Uzbekistan as a consulting interpreter and translator. He is the author of a number of essays and regional studies of Japan and Australia. He is a finalist of a literary contest for authors from Central Asia Novellasia 2014, at which he presented a book of short stories “Touching Koto Strings”. He is a rock musician, the founder and the author of the Tashkent-based band Origami Wings.

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