Reblogging this from my ‘other’ tumblr - it’s the beginning of a story I’m writing about an American teenager forced to relocate to Tokyo.
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On my first day at the American High School in Japan, the sky is cumulus and cartoonishly blue, like the beginning of The Simpsons. It doesn’t look much different to the sky over California, probably because it’s not — it’s the same sky. I’m just looking at it from the other side of the ocean.
Bush warblers are singing in the sakura trees and the streets are carpeted with cherry blossoms. I pass ramen shops and red lantern bars, ‘Engrish’ signs (‘we will do more better!’), billboards of Hollywood actresses and anime characters advertising clothes and cell phones…
I don’t live far and have decided to walk, naively believing that the nameless, numberless streets will somehow be less confusing than the inexplicable subway.
Roppongi is full of ex-pats like me. It’s where all the nightclubs and hostess bars are, where modern-day geishas pour drinks, light cigarettes and sing karaoke. I haven’t been in one yet but I’ve seen the neon window menus with their illuminated photos of girls, the love hotels advertising seedy pay-per-hour rooms with themes like Alien Abduction and Hello Kitty S&M.
I head towards the Hills, a city within a city, past green parks and clinical-looking apartment blocks, but I’m not sure where to go next. I stop on the corner, pull out my pocket A-Z and squint at the criss-cross grid.
I have walked this way twice before: once to go on a tour of the school and again to pick up my enrolment things. I tell myself that the tree on the opposite street looks kind of familiar so I wait at the intersection for the light to change.
No one jaywalks in Japan, even if it’s 3am and there isn’t a car on the road.
A yellow school bus full of children in Madeline hats passes by, all pressing their noses to the window to get a good look at me. I wave but only one little girl waves back.
The light changes; hesitantly, not wanting to be too ‘American’, I put my foot out.
Suddenly, I hear a loud squeal, the sound of tyres and brakes. A teenage boy, gawking so hard his eyes might pop out, is hurtling towards me on his bike.
I step back when he lunges forwards but he grips the handlebars and does a funny John Wayne kind of walk to steady himself, then he bows twice in twitchy way and says something that I think means, ‘I’m sorry.’
‘Ii-yo,’ I stammer. It means ‘that’s fine’ or ‘OK’ and is pronounced like Eeyore, that sad donkey from Winnie the Pooh.
The boy on the bike just stares and stares. Maybe I said it wrong? Then, as suddenly as he appeared, he dashes away, leaving me in a cloud of dust.
What just happened?
Shaking my head, I continue on down the road, towards the wire fence I recognise as belonging to AHSIJ. The school building is made up of five squarish, modernist white blocks and a round glass atrium connected by sky corridors. To the rear are seven silver, capsule-shaped labs, an Astroturf sports field and a baseball stadium (Japanese people like baseball more than Americans, I think). In front is the playground, with wooden picnic tables and sakura trees.
The grounds are deserted. At the gates, Hinomaru, the national flag of Japan, flies next to the Star-Spangled Banner. I watch them flapping hand in hand for a while, beating their wings against the Technicolor sky.
Mount Fuji stands solemn and purple on the horizon. From here she looks majestic, an impassable mountain-god, but I climbed her during my first week in Japan and I know that she is really littered with vending machines and fly-tipped sofas.
Sighing, scared, lonely, I wander over to the main building and try the double glass doors.
I notice my reflection and pull a face. I look like a lolita, like a character from a dirty manga. The girls’ uniform is a navy dress with a sailor collar and a big white bow, knee socks and penny loafers. The boys’ uniform is even more peculiar: a military-style black gakuran with a high round collar, like Meiji-era soldiers or the boys from Battle Royale.
I gaze up at the trees — candyfloss clouds on stalks set against the sun-bleached sky.
Cherry blossoms, beautiful but brief, represent the fragility of human existence or mono no aware: gentle sadness at life’s passing.
During WW2, teenage kamikaze pilots painted cherry blossoms on their planes before taking off on suicide missions.
(C) Morgan 2012