The routine events of my Saturday mornings tend to resemble bulky brown hiking boots — not in any way thrilling or especially appealing but entirely necessary if I want to make it safely through my mountainous weeks.
Included in these standard Saturdays are activities such as Tilex-ing the bathroom, throwing a week’s worth of clothes into the washer, updating a few stories for work and driving to Bountiful for an hour of Zumba. (If we’re sticking with the brown boots analogy, Zumba would be the neon laces — that little something that balances out the drabness. I just love Zumba.)
Also on this list of exceptionally exciting activities is a trip to the grocery store. I generally go to exactly the same store every Saturday and buy (pretty much) exactly the same items. Occasionally, I throw a sponge in my cart just to shake things up. What can I say? I like to live on the edge
Anyway, to mix it up even more this weekend, I decided to take a trip to the new Whole Foods store near my house. All Whole Foods stores are filled with produce I can’t pronounce and bins of bulk items that often resemble dirt, so I knew it would be an exciting trip. And this new flagship store didn’t disappoint.
I was quite impressed with the wide aisles and endless variety of heart-healthy foods. I wanted to take pictures to share with you, but there were store employees in each aisle who were very helpful when I needed to ask a question but not so welcome when I wanted to whip out my camera. I’m pretty sure Whole Foods frowns on snapping shots in the store, so I apologize, but this is all I could get you. I felt silly and somewhat sneaky trying to take this picture. Please accept it as a sign of my dedication to providing at least one interesting element in my posts.
(Though certainly inadequate for this post, I thought this soap did a nice job of capturing the essence of Whole Foods: goat’s milk, exorbitant prices and ingredients that make me say, “Huh?” I had to look up “patchouli.”)
While the items I bought were relatively predictable, there was a part of my experience I could never have anticipated.
As I walked out of the store with paper bags in tow, I had the strongest sensation of familiarity. I had never been to this store before, but suddenly this word came to mind: “home.” It was quickly followed by another word: “Japan.”
I stopped and tried to decide what had made me feel this way, and, after a minute, several elements hit me.
First, the weather. The sky this particular Saturday was heavy and gray. Rain had just begun to pour in thick streams, but the air was warm.
While we only experience this every once in a while around here, it pretty much defines the weather in Tokyo for months at a time. During parts of the summer, the asphalt seems so saturated with water that you expect it to sink like a sponge when you step on it, and umbrellas become as essential as socks and shoes to those who venture outdoors.
I used to despise the rain for the way it makes my hair curl, but on this particular day, it made me smile.
I also noticed that I had parked on the top, open-air level of a narrow, three-story garage (don’t worry, I noticed this as I was attentively driving, too, I just didn’t grasp the significance at the time). As I walked to my car, I realized I was surrounded by mountains of city buildings. This, too, is true of almost anywhere you stand in Tokyo. Initially, the plethora of concrete towers crammed onto tiny city blocks in Japan had made me feel claustrophobic, but I eventually came to find comfort and protection in those same structures.
I had forgotten just how much I missed that sensation of being surrounded until this unusual moment at Whole Foods.
Strangely enough, as I was putting my bags into my car and still reflecting on my Tokyo ties, a Japanese couple walked past, laughing and sharing a few words I could recognize. Coincidence? Perhaps, but I suspect something more was at work.
In Japan, when you return home, you say “tadaima,” meaning “I’m here,” and those who are present when you arrive respond with “okairinasai,” meaning “welcome home.”
As the rain began to bring out the natural waves in my hair, and I looked out on the city from the Whole Foods parking lot, a soft, slow “tadaima” tiptoed through my mind.
And, later, as I pulled away from the building, I’m pretty sure I heard the rain-soaked pavement whisper, “Okairinasai.”
P.S. – I should add that my thoughts and prayers continue to be with the sweet people of Japan. As you can see, I have tender feelings for this wonderful place, and my heart aches for their loss.