Tokyo, Japan: Night cries

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Tokyo, Japan: Night cries

The sound of a baby crying in the night is a terrifying thing. The screams go on and on, no one seems to be taking care of it, you look out your window into the darkness but cannot see where the cries are coming from. You feel helpless.

My ryokan in Shin-Nakano, a suburb to the west of central Tokyo was perfect -- except at night when I heard the baby crying.

Tokyo may be a metropolis but it is also a city of linked villages. Shin-Nakano on the Marunouchi Line was one such village, a charming little place where every night gentle jazz played through small speakers in the otherwise quiet main street.

After a day of business or schlepping around glitzy Shinjuku I'd take the commuter train back to Shin-Nakano and amble the streets to the sound of Dave Brubeck, past the condom, cigarette and coffee vending machines, back to my ryokan where Eisuke-san would be waiting behind his desk to greet me as I removed my shoes.

Eisuke-san was a charming man with tiny spectacles which he looked over but never through. Some afternoons he would invite me to take tea with him and we would sit and talk in his dark office, despite an impenetrable language barrier.

One day I tried asking about the baby, mimicking the sound I had heard, but he just laughed. Clearly I had said something very funny, and he laughed even louder when I made cradling gestures.

But generally it was much smiling, many gestures, and a long 15 minutes.

One beautiful clear morning he asked where I was going and I told him I was headed for picturesque Nikko in the hills to see the temples. He shook his head with great alarm.

"No, No. Coal come. Coal come," he said urgently and pointed at my shirt. I went back to my room and got a jacket. He nodded and smiled as I left under clear blue skies which, by noon, had turned grey.

At Nikko in the late afternoon I was forced to take refuge from the bitter cold rain in a noodle bar for something hot and steamy to go with the reviving sake.

As I walked the streets of Shin-Nakano that evening I was thinking of what to say to Eisuke-san and by the time I reached the door I had memorised a few phrases of gratitude.

Then I heard the baby crying.

Sitting on the roof directly above my room was a crow the size of an albatross, screeching into the late afternoon.

Eisuke-san was mystified when, soaking wet and laughing loudly, I squelched into his dark foyer.

That night I slept through the cries. Almost.

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