Dearest Rachel –
For all my talk about my being an anime otaku (although these days, Daniel and Logan have me well beat in terms of actually watching anime), you were the first of us to actually sample Japanese culture. Starting from the middle of your high school career you would make a habit of calling out “Tadaima!” whenever you returned home from school, at which point, one or the other of your parents would respond with ”おかえりなさい!” (okaeri nasai) to welcome you home.
You and your family had picked up the habit from a visit you had taken to Japan when you were sixteen. Since your parents had married so late in life, they made an urgent effort to have you, but they had made plans to travel together if they were not successful in doing so before your mother’s biological clock ran out. Of course, you were born, so they had to put those plans on hold. And I understand from you that they made a point of letting you know about that, too – “You’re the reason why we never got to travel to Japan back then.”
Not that they held that against you, of course. After all, that trip was the backup plan, the consolation prize. By contrast, you were the star prize, the thing that they were hoping and working towards. But I didn’t of making the back up plan, they found themselves actually wanting to do it at some point, and ultimately promising themselves – and you – that you would go there someday.
So in the summer of your sixteenth year, they manage to make connections with an educational tour group. I’m not sure about all the specifics, as you and I didn’t discuss it that often. Not that you try to hide anything, but there was so much more current and topical for us to talk about, that the subject just didn’t come up. We would have time to reminisce later, or so we thought. What I remember is that your folks traveled with a group of other educators, and were learning about teaching techniques in Japan while they were there, and how they could bring some of those methodologies back to the States with them.
I only have a few impressions from you of your time in Tokyo. More the misadventures of travel – because isn’t that the sort of thing you actually remember from most of your trips? Things like the attempt to try to explain to your taxi driver that you wanted to go to the bus station in Shinjuku (at least I think it was Shinjuku) but he insisted on taking you to the train station instead: “This Shinjuku station!” he insisted, ultimately leaving the three of you to walk several blocks in the rain to get back to the station you actually wanted. It was where you picked up the habit of running to intersections when the ‘Don’t Walk’ light started to flash: “If we hurry, we can make this light!” became a catch phrase you attributed to your dad. It was where you discovered that the Japanese like to put corn and squid ink on pizza – blasphemy! Although, we’ve had corn on pizza since, and it’s not bad in certain contexts.
But the real story of your visit was when each of you home stayed at various homes. Yes, the three of you were split up, and for – was it two weeks? three? – each of you stayed at various homes in a certain part of rural Japan. I don’t remember where it was you said either of your parents stayed, but you found yourself in a little fishing village called Tsumago. You mentioned that it was a touristy sort of place, but touristy in the sense that other Japanese would visit it. It was not the sort of place that foreign tourists would generally go to.
In any event, you stayed with a family that had several daughters, one of which Tomoko was your age. I have, in the past few months, come across some correspondence – cards and what not – between yourself and her as you tried to keep in touch after returning back to the States. If I recall correctly, you went with Tomoko to school on occasion. The way you described it, you were more like the ‘pet foreigner’ rather than like an exchange student, for example. It seemed as if you were a status symbol for the family to show off, that they could afford to host this American girl.
Again, I don’t have much in the way of stories from you about those days. Evidently, much of it went fairly smoothly. You did comment to me about how they did not do breakfast the way they do in the states: I mean, they had a meal first thing in the morning, but it wasn’t any different in terms of food than what they might’ve had for lunch or dinner. In fact, it was more like having leftovers in the morning, rather than any specific type of food like we generally have (like cereal, or eggs and bacon).
One other tale stands out, although I’m not sure if it was from your host family or from your dad’s. I believe he was telling them about having been to the kabuki theater, whereupon the patriarch of his host family snorted derisively, as if that was nothing: “Bah, kabuki! I went to see ‘Cats’ at the Shubert!”
Guess the grass is always greener, no matter where you go.
I wish I could remember, at this late hour, more stories of your trip. But that’s the thing; this was your trip, not mine. What happened there were memories for you and your folks, and now, you’re all gone. I have snatches and scraps, but little more. We have that little handtruck that your dad picked up as half souvenir, half useful carrying item. We have the card game of the hundred poems, that I understand is a traditional game played as part of New Year’s celebrations, but neither of us knew how to play it, so we never did anything with it. That’s really about all that I have. It’s like your trip to the Greek Islands with your class in 1991. What memories you made, I’ve been given only a fraction, and all just a secondhand copy, so what I have is dim and imperfect.
But you did bring home that habit, which you instilled in Daniel and me, To call out “tadaima” upon arriving home (which I would sometimes corrupt into “G’dye, ma!” like an Aussie greeting his mother – hey, it’s what it sounded like to me), and to respond to another’s call with “okaeri nasai” in turn.
I still find myself doing this when I come home, to let Daniel know (wherever he is in the house) that I’ve returned.
And I wonder if you called out to your folks on that fateful day, when you entered the gates of heaven… and if anyone responded to your call: