Remember how I mentioned, last story, that you can easily lose track of time just pondering the battle scars of a Traveler’s Notebook? Whether it’s a brand-new TN fresh out of the package, or a wizened old warrior that’s seen scores of inserts, it’s something you come to love about this object: its unmistakable character. The second I meet someone else who has a TN, I want to put our notebooks next to each other, just to enjoy how their colors, scratches and accessories suggest such vibrant, different presences. My journal’s personality…well, it looks serene enough in pictures, and I consider it a place of refuge. But this slice of leather is a rebel. It proved that to me almost exactly three years ago, in Kyoto, when it ran away from me.
You could still have these kinds of adventures in 2018. We were visiting my partner, Emil’s hometown and family in Japan. It was my first time in the country—and first time using my Camel while traveling. I’d kept it waiting while I finished off an old journal and wondered how I could possibly use something so special as an everyday carry. But now, the TN was serving as a planner, wallet, passport case and (possibly most fun of all) a vehicle for collecting stamps from temples and train stations. It was living up to its name and more.
One day, while sightseeing in Kyoto, perched on a low wall, I set my things aside excitedly. My partner brought over yakitori from a nearby food stall for lunch. The food was hot off the grill and generously portioned. I had to use both hands to hold the wrapping. As I angled it to take a bite, a rivulet of excess oil funneled down the bright yellow paper and splattered directly on the front cover of my TN. I was horrified. Emil understood immediately and made a heroic effort to calm me down. “It’s okay, it’s meant to gain character and become unique over time.” Ame, too, responded to my panicked texts gently, even though it must have been the middle of the night in her time zone. “The first mark is always tough, but after a while you’ll love it even more because of it!” They were both so kind. And so right. But in that moment, I did not feel I loved my TN. I had made it ugly. After mopping up what I could with napkins, I picked at the stain, cursing my carelessness. Emil persisted with positive vibes. “Doesn’t it look a little like dappled light through a tree?” I admitted it did. Even in my despair I was impressed by his poetic imagery. And later, escaping the bright streets in the cool dark of a quiet cafe, he pointed out that the ceramic mugs of his coffee and my affogato matched our journals color and texture exactly. Mine was even flecked with dark spots. “Isn’t it cute?” It was very cute. I started to feel a little better.
But the TN did not forget my initial stab of unhappiness with it.
The very next day, we were visiting Fushimi Inari Taisha, the iconic Shinto shrine whose thousands of vermilion-red torii cover the mountainside in winding paths. At the gift store, I bought a charm for safe travels and tucked it away in my journal’s Truly Yours pocket. Climbing further up the hill, the tourist chatter and phone camera sounds faded away, leaving only the wind in the leaves and cicada song. At breaks in the trail stood quiet buildings and shrines crowded with moss-covered stones, rustling wishes on paper or statues of the inari’s messengers, foxes. Carved across many different time periods and styles, they have a wide range of expressions: from cute to mysterious, intimidating to mischievous. Due to the summer heat, we didn’t go too much further up the mountain than an hour’s hike. After a short rest at the top of worn down, wildflower-covered steps, we trekked back down to the main entrance to look for something to eat. That was when I realized my Traveler’s Notebook, and everything inside, including my wallet and passport, was not with me.
Dreadful understanding opened a pit in my stomach. When I’d sat down at the top of the hill to remove my jacket and drink some water, I’d set my TN down. I had then put my jacket in my bag, and its weight made me think I’d put the journal in there, too. Feelings of irresponsibility, guilt and incompetence crashed down on me. Again, Emil must be commended for showing only patience and care in response. Without missing a beat, he walked back up the path with me. He was hopeful: unlike in the U.S., lost items in Japan are often turned in and can be recovered. But at the stone stairway, we found only flowers.
I wondered out loud if the inari were playing a trick on me. “Maybe. But don’t blame them, or they won’t give it back,” Emil warned, in a 25% joking and 75% serious tone. I murmured an apology to a fox statue as we passed.
Partway down the trail at a fork in the path stood a big map of the mountain. Most people got their bearings and moved on, but one elderly woman lingered, very still among the constant stream of tourists, with her hands behind her back and a super chill expression. From her pose and her housework clothes, Emil guessed she was a guide that lived nearby, rather than a hiker or visitor. I can understand only a little Japanese and speak even less, so Emil fluently explained my situation, holding up his own TN as an example of what we were looking for. Concern dawned on the guide’s face. A little while ago, she told us fretfully, she’d heard an announcement over loudspeaker that someone had found “something like that”. She stopped a man on a motorcycle with a lot of straw-covered boxes strapped onto the back. “You heard something like that, right? That they found something with a passport for a U.S. Citizen that was born in the Philippines?” We perked up. It was too specific—it had to be mine! The motorcycle guy listened, then replied expressionlessly, “Yeah. I heard something like that.” Then he putted away uphill through the forest, literally driving into the sunset. From there the guide suggested we try asking security, and we hustled down the now-darkening mountainside to the main entrance once more.
At the bottom of the path, Emil and I got separated. I later found out that he’d realized the temple’s business operations were closing for the night, so he’d rushed off at full speed to locate security before it was too late. But at the time, I had no idea what happened. There was no room for panic left in me; the adrenaline, anxiety and physical exhaustion cancelled out into numbness. I recalled the lesson taught to very small children: if you get lost, just stay in one place. All right, I could do that. I watched the sunset tinge the walls and roof tiles of the temple buildings pink, teal and blue. I felt overwhelmingly grateful for the help of the people around me, but also extremely useless. At this point, I had my fingers crossed my passport would turn up—I didn’t dare, realistically, to think anything else remained. But I did regret my harsh thoughts towards my TN after the oil spill. I thought that if I could get it back, I’d never call it ugly again.
Eventually, Emil reappeared. The security guard he’d spoken to was brusque. He had heard no such announcement about a passport. Having no idea how to respond or what to do next, Emil had simply stared at the guard. There had been a long pause. Then the guard reluctantly said he’d make some calls. After much back and forth on the phone, he informed us that my item was on its way to a police station in a different part of town. We wouldn’t be able to do more until it arrived there. The recovery process was also complicated by our existing travel plans and the fact that passports naturally must be picked up in person for security reasons. Let’s fast forward five days, to the moment Emil and I walked into a Kyoto police station. The staff member behind the counter visibly brightened when Emil gave his last name. She brought out a rectangular package wrapped with obvious care in brown paper. I opened it. And there lay my TN, spots and all. Really, all. Everything was inside. My passport was zipped up in its pouch. The safe travels charm with its leaping fox, which now seemed prescient or ironic, was still tucked in its slot. Not a single yen had been taken. I’d brought money as thanks for the person who had turned it in, but the staff member shook her head. Whoever had found my notebook, carried it down the mountain, and given it over to Lost and Found had specifically asked not to be rewarded.
Outside, in the parking lot, Emil snapped a few pictures of us holding our TNs and grinned. “The inari gave it back to you.” “THANK YOU!” I yelled. It was a miracle. Because of the kindness of so many people, my runaway notebook came home.
Since that day, I have never removed the charm from Fushimi Inari Taisha from the pocket. I also noticed a slightly darker area on the spine that wasn’t there before. I suspect that’s where the person (or fox?) who brought it down the mountain path held it. This doesn’t bother me at all. I kept my promise, and have never thought of my TN as marred again, no matter how many times it gets splashed by water or nicked by whatever pointy drawing implements happen to be in my bag. About a year after The Incident, I got a circular patch sewn onto my notebook at the 2019 BK x T.S.L. Workshop. Since it’s sewn facing up on the inside cover, the stitches show on the front, circling near the spot where the yakitori oil spilled.
If you’re gonna be a delinquent, you might as well get a tattoo.
Text and photos by: A.C. Esguerra
Where to find A.C. : instagram @blueludebar
BK Artifacts featured:
- Traveler's Notebook Regular - Camel
- TSL x BK "Wabi Sabi" Brass Charm
- BK Truly Yours Option 2: Large Pocket / Right
- BK x TSL Leather Patch
Read other stories by A.C. : Here