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When he took me to a famous Italian restaurant in the posh section of town, my mind exploded with more questions. Was this guy just shelling out to impress me, or was he improbably loaded? How could he have the money for this? Everyone stared at us, the mismatched couple, as we ate our steak. (Also forbidden to monks, incidentally.)
This time I learned more about his family, and I started to feel bad for him. He'd gone into training as a monk because his father and grandfather were both monks in another city; he pretty much had his career set out for him at birth. He went to university beforehand and got a degree in engineering, and he wanted to do all these things that being a monk just won't allow — traveling and having hair and (apparently) dating a blonde girl. Instead, he would have to move back to his hometown as soon as he finished monk training so he could take over as the head monk at his father's temple.
He also explained that as soon as he graduated from monk school and became a fully-fledged monk, he would find a wife and marry. He sounded hopeful, like it might be his one last chance at happiness. He didn't mention me specifically, but the implications were clear.
The worst part of his story, for me at least, came after the dishes had been cleared. He was staring out the window at a spectacular view of a dark sky and harbor when he asked, "Have you ever come here?"
"Before? Sure. Tons of times," I said, almost laughing, because it was the center of downtown Tokyo. Anyone who's ever visited Japan has been there.
"My is first time."
I didn't believe it. How could he live in the outskirts of Tokyo for two years and never enter the city? Then he told me, sheepishly, another "monk rule:" "We are not permitted to leave temple."
He explained that the time I'd met him on the train was the first time he'd ever snuck out. He had been going to an unofficial graduation party for a monk from another temple. The temple was like a prison for him, and he hadn't stepped outside its walls for more than a year after arriving. Just then, I realized how much hoop-jumping he'd done to meet me these two times. There might be a big punishment waiting for him when he returned.
We left the restaurant soon after. He paid for everything, and we parted without so much as a goodbye hug.
I felt awful.
Months later, in the thick of the hottest summer on record, I got a message on my phone:
long time no see. what news? we are going to hold big 'bonnodori' i want you to come. bring your friends! absolutely, you can enjoy!
After our last date, I had stopped returning his calls. I wasn't meant to be the wife of a monk, just like he wasn't meant to be the husband of a sex blogger. Like any perceptive young Japanese guy, he got the message right away and stopped calling. My blog had been awfully quiet lately, and I wondered if I had engaged him half over the possibility of a good story. I couldn't risk letting him get hurt if I was only interested in the story I might tell later on.
And tell it I did, at any opportunity. All summer it was, "Did I ever tell you about that monk I dated?" On the phone, over the internet, in person. The shock value was through the roof.
I didn't know what bonnodori meant, but I showed up on the specified date with an entourage of foreign girls. Wearing very little in the baking heat, we pushed our way through a crowd of thousands to a wide lot, which had been converted to an outdoor dance arena. Every third person in the crowd was a bald monk in black cotton robes. We peered in and out of the temple halls surrounding the dancers until we found my monk. I had prepared myself for an icy greeting, but he was overjoyed to see me.
Over the next few hours, I must've met and danced with almost one hundred monks-in-training, all with little to no English skills. I couldn't help but feel like I was being paraded around like some exotic Canadian animal, the showpiece moose. Could I really complain though? Two can play that game, and I'd already played it to death.
The monks danced with my friends and then were traded out. It was a revolving door of young bald men. Really, though, with their identical robes and haircuts, it could've been the same monks over and over. The sun set and a cloud of mosquitos gathered overhead. My monk and I separated from the group, bouncing along to the squeaky music in such simple Japanese that even I understood it: "Suki suki suki!"
"Love love love! I love you!" We danced into the dusky night, jumping to the same beat, a thousand worlds apart.