It’s been over a week now. Tucked about a ten-minute walk away from the Atomic Bomb Dome in Honkawacho, Hiroshima, I have been sheltered by The Evergreen Hostel, which stands in stark contrast to the memorial of a time when war and hate was everywhere. Managed by its warm and generous owner, Hazuki Umemoto, she initially comes off as too young and too youthful for this position. You then realize that it’s because of these qualities that she is able to bring an energy and awareness to this place. Her curiosity and sympathy for the world and its weary travelers, evident in the way she and her staff welcomes us ragtag nomads, luggage and confusion in tow.
Due to extenuating circumstances, I have found myself in temporary conditions for longer than I wanted, but if this must continue, there is no other nook I’d rather crawl into than this one. The opportunities that this place affords are precious, and even a week has felt lush and dense and a buffet for the tired soul, longing for respite and connection.
Outside the dorms (mixed and female), and bordered by the entrance and kitchen, is the common area, where more often than not, a jambalaya of colors, questions, perspectives, and speech are cooking in the pot. Every night offers a new and distinctive aroma, according to what ingredient each chef and diner has to offer: Japanese, English, German; American, Chinese, Spanish; the more exotic flavors of Indonesian-Dutch, Afghan-Kiwi, and French-Spanish, are just a sampling of the plates that this fine, unassuming bistro has provided.
A scattershot of Lipton tea, generic coffee, Japanese beers and assorted fruit-flavored alcohols stand in disarray, alongside packages and wrappings of late-night discounted sushi, too-sweet pastries, and the ever-ubiquitous and cross-cultural cup of noodles, which arguably will be what brings this world together. Conversations shoot back and forth, and no one is ever quite sure what arena these tennis matches will take place in next.
We switch and swatch between Black Mirror, The Alchemist, morticians and CSIs; someone throws out the ever-elusive theological question of free will versus predestination, and we creep down that rabbit hole for a moment. German dialects, Bollywood movies and SRK, pens and pineapples and pineapple pens, are all game for discourse, and the willingness to share and listen with Sapporo in one hand and no judgment in the other is a beautiful thing.
A new companion looks at the time and it’s 2am. Another run to the local 24/7 supermarket for half-off karaage, two more cans of Suntory Horoyoi Peach, and a group of boys decide St. Paddy deserves a pat on the back and a toast that lasts till death or dawn, whichever comes first. Dew is forming all around outside, and we all know that if we want to be conscious during our tour at Miyajima, this evening’s production needs its curtain call stat.
Feet begin to shuffle.
Teeth are brushed (or not), faces are washed (or not), and beds and bodies meld into works of Dali and Picasso and God only knows. We’re all grateful for this particular run into the woods, but it’s time. There will be no post-credits for this evening. Oyasumi, gute nacht (or nackt, according to my pronunciation. Feel free to look that one up. It’s worth it.), and good night, and we’re done.
My soul swells, grateful for tonight’s dining. I lay me down to sleep, shifting under a plush, linen-wrapped canvas blanket, not yet done digesting the evening’s bento box of discussions and entertainments. I smile with content.
I’ve been caught off guard. I expected a singular deep dive into the roots and foods of Japan and a crash course of Nihongo. I wanted to jump right into what was supposed to be the next chapter of work and life after an overextended hiatus of not quites back at home. Instead, I have been diverted and indulgent here at Evergreen, getting high off multiple levels of profound conversation and global friendships.
If kindness is gold, I am a man, rich in resources and lucky in trade. And as I find myself surrounded by plans and pdfs, scribbled notebooks, scheduled calendars and crumpled 7-11 receipts, I am reminded that the journey of my heart is just as relevant as the journey of my Converse, and where I am is not a bad place to be.