But most of all, Hobbits like things that grow. A good story doesn’t really end, it grows.
My grandfather recently died of Alzheimer’s. One of the most odd and interesting parts of the disease is the need to go “home”. Some say it is their childhood home they are looking for. I think it has more to do with the lack of familiarity. Without memory, how can anything be familiar? How can anything seem normal? How can you ever be home?
I couldn’t imagine that feeling and hope I never do. He had a home. He just couldn’t remember it. He had us. He had Grandma Williams. He had a life that I strive to compare to.
So let me tell you a little bit about home, about what I remember. My stories.
Tokyo was completely foreign to me but it became my home; it became a memory.
I remember the dorm dad clearing his throat loudly outside my door at 5 am every day. I knew the cleaning lady would close off the showers around 9:30 and finish cleaning the dining room between 11 and 11:30; I would always see here in there while making ramen just before I headed off to school. I would smile and try to stay out of her way. She would smile and continue her work, stopping from time to time to stretch her back or, on rare occasions, comment to me about the weather. On days I had to go in around 10 I would see the short guy in his hat and vest walking his big, white dog. I always wanted to pet his dog because she reminded me of Sally. I waded through the morning bustle at Iidabashi and strolled along path to school, canopied by trees and made deafening by cicadas in the summer and trains year round.
That little walk I particularly liked. Anime shows often start with the sound of cicadas growing louder and louder until it seems to be an all consuming wave, only to cut off into a conversation somewhere. Walking that little path with cicadas all around, which really do overpower everything, was like stepping into one of those shows. We think of cicadas here as solitary, quite hums but in Japan they are not solitary or quiet; they are like an army. A soldier’s wandering steps are solemn. An armies deafening march is awe inspiring and overwhelming. Cicadas are like an army. It’s a sound I won’t forget.
I knew most of the teachers would be boring that day. They were boring every day. I knew Shinya sensei to be strict, Komine sensei to make fun of people, Komia sensei to fidget, and Hasegawa sensei to smile.
I had a few friends too. Chris would worry about his looks, make bad jokes, and troll (say stupid/obviously wrong stuff to annoy people). Ally of course would be there to make fun of him or just scowl. Cadan and I joined the roast.
The train home was quiet, crowded, and in winter, dark.
Dinner was practically a family affair with the dorm mom and all the other cafeteria ladies gossiping in the kitchen or at their table and all the foreign students at our own table, gossiping in English and generally dreaming of food.
I remember walking. Walking home. Walking in the park. Walking to Nishi Kasai. Just walking. Watching people has always been a bit of a hobby for me but I’m not sure if I had ever realized how much I love to. Somewhere I have a picture of a grandmother telling a story to her grandchildren. I really like that one; there’s nothing better than a good story because a good story is nothing more, and nothing less, than a bunch of good memories.
One time I was about 10-15 minutes from my dorm in the middle of a park at about 10 PM and as I came over a bridge I saw a rather frantic young Japanese man. His motorbike had tipped over and, being quite small, he just couldn’t right it by himself. Try as he might, there was just no way he could lift it from either side. Obviously I was the only person around so I helped him, he said thanks, and we both went on our way. An interesting memory though isn’t it? I’ll never forget the tiny guy in a park late at night that couldn’t lift his bike. He’ll never forget the foreigner walking around a suburban park late at night for no apparent reason who helped him lift his bike.
I wrote before about wandering through tiny back alleys at night and seeing a man’s face set aglow by his cigarette. Such a cliché scene but we like clichés. Everyone says they hate cliché, cheesy stuff. We don’t. We love that crap. I think the only reason we tend to think so poorly of watching a good sunset is that every loves to watch a good sunset. What’s so bad about that? If something is both wonderful and familiar, is it not universally treasured memory? So back to the man smoking away in his little, dark alley; he reminds me of my own walks. Just outside watching the planes fly over and the people walk by and thinking. Familiar, wonderful, and universal.
*Chris took this
Komine and Hasegawa were my favorite teachers. One time when the other Scott (an extremely fat American who never left the dorm) was in class, a rare event to be sure, Komine asked him how many sushi he could eat. Scott mumbled a little incoherent answer in English while Komine said in Japanese “10, 20, 30, 40, you forgot how many?!” He had no idea. She had the biggest grin. I love when people know how to have a little fun.
I said Hasegawa sensei smiled. That is what I will remember of her; a smile for every situation. There was even a particular grin/grimace for those times when you had no idea how to say something. Everyone should know how much a giant smile puts a room at ease, especially when you’re about to make a speech in a language you only vaguely understand.
I had been drinking a lot of milk tea the first semester so Chris decided to buy a big bottle and try it. Well he drank a liter of it in about an hour at McDonalds. On the way home we were crossing a big intersection and about ¾ of the way through we hear a cough or two followed by a giant “SPLAT.” A liter of milk tea does not stay down. He had puked in the middle of a very busy intersection right in front of the cars. What could we do? What do you do in that situation? We all burst out laughing at the sheer absurdity, except Chris of course.
Cadan will probably remain most in my memory for being simple, caring, and frank. While stranded on Fuji all night, Cadan turned that place upside down looking for somewhere for Runan to sleep. During finals week he’d go over to her apartment and do all the cooking. He was always looking out especially for Runan but everyone I think in a more passive sense.
Ally was practically Chris’s mother away from home; “Do your homework!” “Don’t say that!” “Yes, I’ll pay for dinner.” The latter was the most often used.
Sun Borui. I don’t suppose I told any of you much about her. She taught me by accident that you should never underestimate how important we are to each other. I would just talk to her in class from time to time and sometimes when a group of us went out. Well it went along about like that until she left. Only afterwards did she say that me and one other guy, Shannon, an older man about 30, were her best friends in Japan.
And all the others. There were many; Joseph, Ron, Andy, Kristy, Svenja, Rafael, Ryota, Nozomi, and Yuma. And many more I haven’t listed. And even more whose names I’ve forgotten. I’ve never been very sociable, but I do truly love people. They may annoy me at every now and then but time is kind and memory sees through rose colored glasses; I will remember them for the good I saw.