I must admit that I am embarrassed by the comments I have received. I write to put down my thoughts and to think that people–ok, at least 9 of you–might find any of this interesting, is humbling, in all honesty. Anyway, it continues like this…
Not Living Up to Expectations
This is the fourth installment, the continuation of yesterdays entry.
Working at the J-Town sweetshop, my Japanese language ability had improved significantly. It opened a whole new world to me. Going to Eigiku with Mitchan (his real nick-name), I slowly began to comprehend the Japanese world that was swirling around me. He thinks she’s cute. She thinks he is sukebe (horny). The wages were too low. The microphone was too loud. Do you wanna sing?
“Me? Uh, no thanks. I don’t know any of the songs…”
But regardless of my unwillingness to partake in singing at a piano bar, my interest in things Japanese grew significantly.
“Hey, Onigiriman,” said a worker at the sweet shop. “Why don’t you go to Japan? Lots of beppin there.”
Beppin, a colloquial term for beauty, immediately caught my attention. While playing in the band and partying into the wee hours, I had learned, among other things, why God created women. So when my mother arranged for me to go to Japan to stay with my grandmother in her Tokyo mansion, I packed my bags in an instant.
Is this not a face you could trust?
I arrived at Haneda Airport in Tokyo to a deluge of Japanese faces. Man, will you look at this? I look like everyone else here. Confident in the Japanese ability I developed at the sweet shop, I made my way through immigration, dealt with the agricultural control agent–who promptly cut the only twine that held together the case of four honey dew melons my grandmother insisted I bring–and passed customs after having my suitcase thoroughly searched for contraband, I entered the main lobby and searched through the dizzying crowd, finally hearing my name being called by my grandparents. My maternal grandmother was born and raised in Hiroshima and was an atom bomb victim, as was my mother. My grandfather–my grandmother’s second husband–was an executive for JETRO, the Japan External Trade Organization. He had lived many years overseas in countries such as Iran, Australia and Switzerland, and spoke English very well. As we traveled to Suginami-ku by taxi, I conversed with them eager to show-off my Japanese. They seemed pleased enough, and I was excited to see my room in this new mansion they had bought near Nishi-Ogikubo station on the Chûô line. The car stopped in front of a white, non-descript structure that looked more like an apartment than a mansion.
“We’re here,” my grandfather said as he paid the driver.
Puzzled, I lugged my suitcase and the honey dew up to the third-floor of this elevator-less building. Entering in the small entrance, we took off our shoes and they directed me to a room where I was to leave my suitcase. It was, to me, no bigger than a large walk-in closet. “This is where you’ll sleep,” my grandmother told me. “And, this is where we sleep,” she continued, pointing to the only other room with a small TV in it.
“Is this where you live? Mom told me you bought a mansion.”
I found myself in a situation that exposed my inability to grasp the cultural abyss between Japan and the US. All my life, I thought I was Japanese. In 1970, when the movie Tora! Tora! Tora! Came out, My friends and I–about twenty of us–went to Grauman’s Chinese Theater in Hollywood with the intention of cheering the Japanese attack of Pearl Harbor. My friend brought his large Japanese navy flag and we ran around the theater waving it. Every time a Japanese bomb hit a U.S. battleship, we cheered. And with each cheer came hisses from the other people in the audience, some yelling to pipe down, but not much more when they realized what a big single group we were. It was, to be sure, childish, unproductive, and insensitive to the many who lost their lives in this war, but for a bunch of JA teenagers, it gave us a sense of pride. Images of buck-tooth Japs being drubbed by the likes of John Wayne were nowhere to be seen, and we felt empowered.
But now, in the fall of 1974, four months after I graduated high school, I was beginning to realize that maybe, I wasn’t Japanese. Indeed, my first visit to Japan made it all too clear to me that I wasn’t Japanese even in the eyes of the Japanese. I may have looked Japanese, but once anyone found out I was American, they treated me differently. Sometimes rudely, sometimes nicely, but always differently. I didn’t think Japanese, and as it was pointed out to me by many, I couldn’t speak Japanese either, at least not to their standard. And girls! Where were the girls? There were a lot of cute girls, but I was totally out of my element. I had a lot of time on my hands, but with no money and little knowledge of my surroundings, I was totally lost. I had hoped my second cousin, who was half a year older than me and a college student at Waseda, would help me out, but he was square. I mean four ninety-degree-angles square. Besides, I got the impression he didn’t want to have anything to do with me, a borderline high school drop-out.
I ultimately spent four months in Japan getting acquainted with the many relatives I never knew, and returned to the U.S. with a whole new set of questions… Who am I? What am I? Where do I belong? I went to Japan thinking I was Japanese, but learned that I wasn’t. I knew that in the U.S. I was not totally accepted or tereated as an American either. So where do I belong? For the time being, no one could take away my birth place, and my passport said I was an American citizen, so I had to deal with my inner conflicts in LA, and go from there…
More to come…