1 The height of spring in “Mo-an”

“There is a tearoom called ‘Mo-an’, at the top of Mt. Yoshida”, the professor said.
The colors of the tender greenery were deepening. It was the beginning of May, when I remembered his words.
I do not like it, how busyness, dulls the senses.
After entering university and living alone, I got worked up over the unfamiliar environment. I did not notice how beautiful the cherry blossoms glow in the blue sky, or how pleasant the spring breeze blows in a welcoming way. The days just passed by, like how you would leaf through the pages of a book.
I was hit by indescribable emptiness. Suddenly stopping to look around, the blossoms had already fallen. That wind, when winter and spring are mixed together, which you cannot really tell if it is cold or warm, cannot be felt till next year. That is so sad. However, it is different from regret or sorrow. Seasons will again, come around. You can feel what you could not find this year, next year. Oh, but, what is this feeling? Like throwing away a bag of sweets, not knowing the best part is still there. Being so wasteful. Why, yes. This must be the feeling of ‘mottainai’.
Then came the consecutive holidays in May, slipping a bookmark between the pages of my new life. Waking up, it was like carrying a ghost on my shoulder, feeling somewhat languid.
Once something snapped off, I could not make myself do any housework for even a second, which I had been doing each and every day. Washing my face after a yawn, I was looking into the eyes of a withered woman with tired skin. Did I always look like that, unambitious? I should have been longing to be a university girl.
From the window in my room, I gazed at the streets with no cherry blossom. I am wasting my days, though I came to the land of my dreams, Kyoto, though knowing nothing of it. Like a bird born in a birdcage, not knowing the sky.
-…at the top of Mt. Yoshida-
A voice, coming from far off in my memory, reached my ears; low, calm, and somehow gentle.
Now, whose voice was this?
Parking my bike at the university campus, because it was near Yoshida Shrine, I walked through the torii (the gateway to the shrine). If I had gone a little further than usual, I could have come anytime, but this was my first time visiting this place. A sprinkling of visitors, from the elderly to children, were around. They were all a few steps ahead of me. Walking straight ahead, it is already Mt. Yoshida. Not going to the grocery store, not heading for the university. I am now walking, for me. Sadly, I was unable to do the simplest thing, during the past one month.
The tall trees hanging over, seemed to welcome me, as I was walking up the gentle mountain trail. The lights leaking from the tender green, came falling endlessly, shining like they held jewels inside themselves.
Soft breeze, blew.
Trees are making sounds like rippling waves. Birds are singing ‘chirp-chirp’ like frolicking children. Impurities, zero percent. Clean air, flows inside, when I breathe in deeply. As I walk, step by step, the languidness from this morning came falling apart, drop by drop. Like a wilted flower facing up instantly, when it gained water, I was breaking into a smile.
Enjoying the walk in the green sea, for approximately 15 minutes.
Suddenly, the view opened out, and far in the distance, a shop like a hideout came into sight. A tasteful wooden building, protected by the tender green curtain. Yellow glowing light, peeking from the 2nd floor window. As the shop itself embraces personality, it feels somehow warming. I looked at the 2 words on the signboard saying “茂庵(Mo-an)”, and felt happiness filling me from the bottom of my heart, like when reuniting with an old friend.
I passed through the lightly dancing shop curtain, and opened the door, slowly, not to make any noise. Empty, but just some chairs with red cushions. It appears that the 1st floor is a waiting room. On the left-hand side, there is a staircase to the 2nd floor. Calm laughter, like a schoolgirl’s whisper, seems to be inviting me in as it shakes my eardrums.
What lies ahead? What is it, that is waiting for me hereafter? No answer came from looking up at the staircase.

 --Come on up, if you want to know.
A wonderful encounter, is sure to be here.
I stepped one step forward, like being drawn by an invisible thread.
As I reached the 2nd floor, a comforting wide space, filled my sight like the ocean. Table seats, sofa seats, and counter seats. Roughly counting, about 30 people must be able to sit. From the big windows in all directions, the tender green I saw earlier peers in like it is enclosing the space. Under the warm light, flower like smiles are blooming, here and there.
Irashaimase (Welcome)” 

 I was standing by the stairs, when a waiter came from the back of the room. The waiter surveyed the shop, and lowered her eyebrows with a troubled look on her face.
“I am terribly sorry, but would you mind sharing a table?”
I glanced at the counter seat. I would have liked to sit there and get the whole view of the city of Kyoto, but if all the seats are full, that cannot be helped. I answered that I wouldn’t mind, and I was seated at a table seat on the other side.
The customer who was there before me, looked up from the book he was reading.
I swallowed the voice that was about to escape from my lips.
Silky hair, and familiar glasses. Grey long-sleeve shirt, and a silver watch wrapped around his left arm. And in his hand, was a worn-out book of “Ise Monogatari Kaishakuron (Theory of Interpretation of the Tales of Ise)”.
Professor Masaki, threw a glance at me, and as if nothing had happened, he turned his eyes back to his book.
Nervously, I seated myself right across from the professor. Turning over the menu, I ordered an iced tea in an unsteady voice. Like easing the stretched thread of my tension, I rested my back against the chair.
Well, of course, there is no need to hold my breath. Although I am attending his lecture, there is no way, a person in a position of a professor, would remember one of his many students. As evidence, see, he is still taking no notice of me.
In a shop filled with laughter, our table is the only place, which is quiet as the calm ocean. The flow of time, the filling air, everything is completely different.
No conversation. No eye contacts. After all, we are not friends. Only an “individual” and an “individual”, sitting there, across from each other. Yes, that is all.
Drinking the iced tea, which the waiter just brought, I quietly looked in front of me.
How could he be there, just on the other side of the table. Point-blank range, unbelievably closer than usual. It is not the first time to face each other, but this close distance made me realize for the first time.
How long the finger tips turning the pages are. How beautiful like a woman, the shadow of his eyelashes falls upon his eyes.
I wonder how long he has been here. The iced coffee which is half of what it was, is sweating the glass, as if it expresses the length of time he had spent.
--I like spending time drinking iced coffee, in a place surrounded by tender green.
It was the first time to hear a casual story like this, in his lecture.
Because he did not give attendance points, students attending his lectures got fewer and fewer, as the lecture went on, and by the 3rd lecture, only about a dozen people were left. After his explanation about a Waka (a 31-syllable poetry, Tanka) as usual, the professor was like talking to a friend. His voice, a little softer than usual, is still shaking my eardrums.
As if the tender green called for me, I looked outside the window.
This place is isolated from the bustle of the big city. Until just a while ago, I was in the city where cars and bikes raced by. Why do I feel like I have come to a completely different world, just by climbing a mountain for only 15 minutes?
The flow of time, the atmosphere, and the warmth in the light shining down.
Mysterious, even the people gathering here, appear to be different from those in the lower world. Perhaps because this is the 2nd floor. I am supposed to be sitting in my seat, but my whole-body sways in a lightly floating feeling, almost like a lullaby.
I let go of the straw from my lips, then strained my eyes. In a mountain far away, something is written. I wonder, what can that be? I might be able to read it “大(dai : big)”.
--Oh, I see.
As soon as I realized what it was, on my mouth, a smile leaked out.
It was the Daimonji-yama which flames up in the Gozan Okuribi, or the Daimonji Festival, in August. From when I was very young, I have seen this many times in the television. The red flames, blazing up as if it were cutting through darkness.
If I were to be seated at the counter, I would, probably, not be able to realize this. Who would have thought that the Daimonji can be seen from here? I would have no idea, if the person right in front of me would not tell me, that there is a wonderful space such as this place, close by the university.
When I looked up, I happened to see the professor that was supposed to be reading his book, too, had been admiring the Daimonji-yama. Slowly, I blinked, like I was enjoying the taste of this view.
Even though we did not have any words to exchange, like people in other tables. Even though we never smiled at each other. Even so, we must be sharing the same feeling. Comfortable silence, covers us, like a spring sunlight. Oh, how I wish I could stay here like this forever. To forget all about studying, doing housework, or caring about social relationships, and be absentminded. What a childish thought.
I wonder how much time went by.
The iced coffee in front of me got empty, and the finger turning the pages stopped. Then the professor silently left his seat, paid the bills and went down the stairs.
Oh, he made me somehow, peculiarly nervous.
After the professor had gone out of sight, I took a deep breath. On second thoughts, there was no need for me to strain my nerves like this. After all, for the professor, I am just “Student A”. It is doubtful he can recognize my face, let alone my name. He would never dream, that I was someone who was drawn to this place by his words.
Having finished my iced tea, I enjoyed the atmosphere in the shop plentifully, and stood from my seat. When I approached the cashier to pay my bills, the waiter tilted her head in wonder.
“We have already received your bill”
When I asked who, an unexpected answer came back, “the gentleman across from your seat”. I looked back in surprise.
No one was there anymore. No broad back that does not guide us, no dark eyes that does not show interest. Before I can say thank you, he was gone like the wind.
so, the one who thought we were strangers, was me.

Shop Name Mo-an Café & Tea Room
Address 8 Kaguraoka-cho, Yoshida, Sakyo-ku, Kyoto
Access 15 minutes’ walk from Yoshida Shrine.
Can be accessed from other directions as well.
TEL +81-75-761-2100
Opening Hours 11:30~18:00 (last order 17:00), lunch time is 11:30~14:00
Mondays (Except for National Holidays. Following Tuesday will be closed instead.),
New year’s Holidays, Summer Holidays (8/17~8/ 31)
URL http://mo-an.com/index.html
Notice Please check the newest information on the homepage.

HOME | Stories | 1 The height of spring in “Mo-an”