The new issue of Nikkei Heritage, "The Supernatural" has just come out and, as often happens, we didn't have enough space for every article. Here is an article written by Ken Kaji about an uncanny encounter he had in San Francisco
A small white sign with carefully written calligraphy caught my eye. “Kanto Ya,” it read, indicating a restaurant within. Unheeded, most of the pedestrians walked swiftly by. The sudden, unexpected rain shower had caught most of the office workers off guard as they hurried home, wet and tired after a full day of work. Their rain splattered forms catching an auto headlight, or a flickering neon sign shedding a dazzling glow, cast miniature reflections in water droplets refracting the scattered lights of the surrounding Tenderloin district.
The Japanese restaurant sign meant noodles — hot noodles — that could be ordered and eaten quickly, leaving me enough to time arrive on schedule at my seminar on transformational spirituality where non-punctuality was considered, at least implicitly, a moral weakness.
Feeling a little pressure, I moved quickly from the parking garage across the street and walked by a high brick wall that aligned an empty lot. The wall, similar to some of the street’s indigents, bore the marks of timeless abuse. There were faded posters ads with torn letters that had over time become tattoos. A half face smoking a filtered cigarette. Addiction and intimacy.
Kanto Ya, like many cheap restaurants in the marginal areas of downtown San Francisco was located in the rear of a storefront that catered to tourists. Entering the door, I could see postcards of the Trans America pyramid and gorillas at Fleisshacker Zoo amidst sundries, medicines, aphrodisiacs, candy and cosmetics for the quick-drop-in shopper. They were cluttered along long counters that led to the entrance of the restaurant, appropriately adorned with a Kanto style frayed indigo, noren curtain. Behind the curtain, there was a dining area plainly furnished with tables and chairs. It was drear and empty.
I found the first customer of the evening. The waitress, as if rehearsed, went through the ritual of welcoming me and bringing a cup of hot tea. I glanced at the menu and placed my order. The actions were spare and anticipated as in the opening gestures of a Noh play. As I waited for my food to arrive, I glanced nervously at my watch, and was relieved when I heard another customer enter the premises. I turned around to see two persons enter the room. Brushing under the noren, were an older Caucasian man and a small, white haired, Japanese woman who seemed almost half his height. He was perhaps her attorney, or a long time family friend from pre-war days, maybe a financial advisor like my mother used to have in Michigan. They sat at the far corner of the room.
The noodles finally came. I cursed myself for not remembering that hot noodles cannot be eaten very quickly. As I struggled with my hot meal, I felt very warm and began to perspire.
I looked up from my steamy glasses, and was startled to find the face of the little old Japanese woman very close to mine, staring at me intently. She smiled and introduced herself.
“Uyeno,” she said was her name.
‘Strange,’ I thought, ‘that’s my mother’s name.’
This woman rambled on in broken English about her stamp store in D.C. and how she was well known by “many congressmen on the hill.”
I was beginning to feel a bit nervous, not wanting to get engaged in a lengthy conversation with this woman. My class at the St. Francis was to begin in a matter of minutes. I called for my check and threw a few crumpled bills on the table. Then I abruptly stood up.
I uttered a hasty apology to this person who blocked my way. I ran for the door, and dashed out into the cold. It was still raining. The overcast sky had lapsed into night. The raindrops struck my face. I sprinted up O’Farrell Street, dodging people and cars.
It was only after I had made it to the seminar and collapsed in my seat that I began to feel that I had just talked to someone I had known very well.
The woman in that restaurant had my mother’s name, but beyond that, she sort of looked like my mother and — most affecting of all — she felt like my mother.
To this day the memory of that urban spring night — the restaurant on that rainy street and the uncanny encounter within — continues to linger in my dreams.