When making up a story, there’s a useful, simple concept we learned in writing classes: your characters should want things. The character wants something, but he faces obstacles in order to get it. This is a good tool, especially for building narratives: interesting obstacles, battles, enemies.
Today I woke up and went to Kamakura, a city about an hour south of Tokyo. Kamakura was the warrior capital of the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, and today it’s a popular day trip from the city. This wasn’t my first time to Kamakura. I’ve been going on the weekends, waking up early and taking the trains while they’re still almost empty. When I arrive, the cicadas are singing, but the full, heavy heat of the day hasn’t settled. There’s a breakfast place I like near the station where they do teishoku, set meals served on a tray. I always get the same thing: salted grillled mackerel, rice, pickles. The miso soup is made with a white miso and grilled Summer vegetables from the daily famers’ market next door: green bell peppers, tomatoes, soft onion. The pickles are made in rice bran, which gives them a funkiness I’m not sure I like, but it pairs well with everything else. The little side dish today was hijiki, a type of black seaweed, beans. The rice is always pink, studded with beans and bits of other grains. It’s a small breakfast place, but it has wonderfully big windows that let in the morning light on the wooden counter where solo diners like me sit. When I finish eating everything, I wash it all down with some hot herbal tea.
This diner gets its donuts from Betsubara Donuts, a tiny one-room shop and kitchen tucked away in a residential neighborhood not far from the station. Betsubara makes the best donuts in Japan. They are big, with a delightful chew, and thoughtfully chosen glazes. They are not overly sweet donuts. The rum raisin donut is studded with fat, rum soaked raisins. The passion fruit donut glaze contained crunchy seeds that constructed with the sweet, chewy dough, and my recent love was an ume donut, topped with a sweet-sour plum glaze. They fry the donuts four at a time in two pots on the stove, then glaze them and place them in the glass case at the front of the “store.” Betsubara Donuts closes in August for a well-earned vacation, so I had to make one last visit this week to say farewell and order a batch to take with me.
The first time I went there, I bought a couple donuts and walked down to the beach of Zaimokuza. I pulled out the rum raisin donut, with the sea breeze blowing, and I took a single bite. It was a magical moment. The sun was hot, and I was grinning. The best donut, I found myself thinking, I must take a picture.
As I turned the donut so that it caught the light just so with the ocean in the background, just as I was about to snap a picture of the rum raisin donut, a hawk swooped down and snatched it from my hand. In one bewildering second, the donut was gone.
The hawk flew off with the donut in its little white bag held fast in its talons, but it soon got into an aerial battle with another hawk and some crows. I watched as my donut fell from the sky and bounced against the roof of a surf shack. Never to be seen again.
If you walk south from Betsubara, you’ll run into the coastal highway, but before you pass under the road to go to the beach, there’s a little coffee shop tucked away. It’s a writing spot. They put big chunks of cut ice in the drinks, which is especially pretty when the weather is hot like it is now.
A man and woman set up an old, hand-cranked shaved ice machine in front of Milk Stand and Coffee. I ordered the plum and sweet milk shaved ice before heading inside to settle at a worn table to write.
I had gone swimming and washed off. Walked in the sun to the coffee shop. I don’t think there are better conditions to eat shaved ice.
It was a simple, almost perfect day.
One of the problems with the clear motivation driven model is that sometimes we do not know exactly what we want (or need). It’s hard. I feel like we are mostly just fumbling and wandering, trying to determine what we want and then how we can get it, if we can at all. But it’s harder to tell those kinds of stories.
I didn’t know how much I needed that day by the ocean until I was sitting at that coffee shop table, shaved ice in hand.