MEMORIES OF MARCIE in JAPAN
On 22 May 2017, Alene and I rented a car and drove from Niigata, on Japan's west coast, into Nagano Prefecture to visit the hotel where Marcie worked. This was also the place where she died. I could not leave Japan without visiting.
We drove from Niigata to the Ikenotaira Hotel at Shirakaba Lake. The location is marked by a star just above the 'a' of Japan.
We docked Migration at this abandoned wharf in Niigata.
As we drove on the (expensive!) Japanese toll highways, we listened to some of Marcie's favorite music (CSNY, Beach Boys' Holland, Carole King). It was a very hazy day. After leaving the coast, some of the Japanese Alps came into view. They were still covered in snow.
We arrived at the hotel in the afternoon. Clearly additions had been made but much looked the same as it was 37 years ago.
This is the rebuilt front of the hotel. I'm posing with a small paper tray that Marcie sent me from Japan in 1979.
The decor was pretty dated. It certainly had a worn-out feel.
As I'd made a reservation, the staff were expecting us. I didn't have to give them our name when we arrived. We were the only gaijin (foreigners) in the whole place so it was pretty obvious who we were when we approached the front desk.
We sat down for a short time with the hotel manager. She had heard of Marcie's death but said she wasn't there when it happened. We weren't quite sure about that as she also said she'd been there for 40 years. But it was fine; I'm sure it was a slightly uncomfortable situation for her. We showed her some of Marcie's photos of the area and gave her the old hotel brochures that were among Marcie's things. She was very pleased to have the brochures.
The disco where Marcie danced was turned into a bar/restaurant about 20 years go.
The hotel is fairly old fashioned. It caters to people coming up for short stays from Tokyo (only 3.5 hours away). There is a run-down amusement park and some very short ski slopes. It does, however, have a beautiful (clearly refurbished) onsen (hot spring bath). In the elevator, we were enthusiastically told by another guest that the food was excellent. He was right.
This is the beautiful view from the main dining room.
The hotel upgraded us to a deluxe room which was very kind of them (it wasn't a cheap hotel). Japanese hotels are not like their Western counterparts: twin beds in all the rooms... or futons on the floor. This is a kotatsu which is a table with a heating element under it for use in the winter. Sitting on the table is Marcie's album which Mom made.
After meeting with the manager, we took some of Marcie's photos and went for a walk around the lake.
So much of it looked the same.
There were a lot of swan boats for rent.
I'm including this photo just because I like that the black swan looks so pissed off.
At the far end of the lake we found the exact view that was in one of Marcie's photos. It had been a somewhat somber visit up until then, but looking at this view and knowing Marcie stood at this exact spot touched me very, very deeply.
Because of the red torii (Japanese gate) we knew there was a shrine on the small island. We continued around the lake hoping to find a way to walk to it.
This is the landside entrance to the island.
Alene and I were the only ones on the island. It was very quiet and peaceful. Most Japanese observe a mix of Shinto and Buddhist religious practices. Shinto focuses a great deal on ancestor worship. Alene and I both said a prayer at this small Shinto shrine. I prayed for all my relatives who have passed away... so many...
After praying we walked back to land. I suddenly remembered that Michael Berlin had asked me to say a prayer for Marcie. I knew the island was the appropriate place so we walked back out. In the little clearing next to the shrine, we sang Oseh Shalom -- the last verse of the mourner's kaddish. I was surprised that I could barely make it through the prayer so great was my grief.
Over the preceding days, Alene had asked me many questions about Marcie's life and my relationship with her. We had looked through the album Mom had made, read Marcie's journal and her letters. I hadn't realized how much I had forgotten... or pushed aside. Perhaps it was my way of coping at the time with another death in the family. I remember Mom telling me that I should write a song about Marcie to help me deal with my grief (I was writing a lot of songs at the time), and I thought she was wrong... I'd dealt with my grief just fine. But, as was so often the case when I was young, Mom was far wiser than I gave her credit for.
Alene and I sat on the bench near the shrine and talked and listened. The sun was setting, the light had a beautiful golden hue. I missed my sister deeply. Finally, we walked back to the hotel through beds of daffodils and came upon one lone cherry tree that still had a few blossoms.
After dinner that evening, we went to the onsen. It was nice to soak in a hot spring after an exhausting day. I'm positive that onsen were a part of Japan that Marcie truly appreciated.
The next morning we had to get up somewhat early for breakfast. A big resort hotel like this and the last seating for breakfast is 8:15?!
There were lots of families in the hotel. The children are incredibly cute in their yukata (light kimono).
After breakfast we rode the chairlift up the hill. I didn't really want to but felt I should. At the top was a display of live owls... all tied to stumps for people to take photos of. They were such amazing and beautiful birds and it just made me sad to see them captive.
The chairlift is now a double instead of a single, but not much else has changed.
We walked back down the hill and packed up.
It's no surprise that many things reminded me of Marcie. How appropriate that there was a huge strawberry display in the omiyage (souvenir gift) store.
Alene commented that this statue in front of the hotel was slightly reminiscent of the sculpture Ed Silvers made in honor of Marcie -- a stylized drawing of it was used on the cards for the Marcie Fund. It also reminded me of the statues at Beaver Creek.
We drove away into another hazy day. On the way home we stopped to look at a beautiful (though hazy) view of the southern alps, and had a short visit at the Hokusai Museum in Obuse. Alene did all the driving -- 4+ hours each way. She's the only driver because she has an international driver's license and I don't. Japan is the only country we have ever visited that insists on an international driver's license to rent a car.
Alene was wonderfully supportive during this whole time... it certainly wasn't a fun trip but she knew it was something I needed to do and she embraced the journey.
I'm glad I went. I understand how challenging living here must have been for Marcie. It is a very foreign land. Hardly anyone speaks English and far fewer spoke it then. That's why she became good friends with the Taiwanese singer who spoke English. She lived in a pretty remote area. And as she only had two shows to do each night, she had a lot of time to think.
If you are reading this, you are probably someone who knew and loved Marcie. I hope it helps you understand the life Marcie was living on her adventure here. I'm still not completely clear why I needed to do this, but I did, and that's fine.
There's not much else I can add but I'll end with my daily poem for 22nd May written at the Ikenotaira Hotel. I don't usually share my daily poetry, but I think that in this case, though it isn't a particularly well-crafted poem, it does express my feelings as I stood on the little island near the shrine.
THE POETRY AND PRAYERS OF GRIEF
I bow twice
and our mother
and an octet of grandparents
loving them all
thanking them all
in this place
where your footsteps
buried pine needles
that are the dirt
Is it possible
I stand upon your
an end to regret
How I miss you
To sit in this place
where you were lost in thought
choked by tears
your celestial ears
for your brotherís
are these years like nothing?
Do you hear?
sing my prayer
-- Bruce Balan
Marcie Balan 1956 - 1979