The Real Japan

    In 1966, when I was ten years old, I lived in Okinawa. My dad was a fighter pilot out of Kadena AFB, running sorties to Viet Nam. Once a month, or so, a woman would come to our fifth grade class and teach us a little Japanese culture and language. (I still have my notebook from those lessons). At that time, the Ryukyu Islands, were still under US control. Long before that, Okinawa had a tumultous history as a sovereign nation, sometimes under Chinese control, and sometimes under Japanese control. Although Okinawa would someday be returned to Japan, it retained its own subculture apart from Japan. From those days in Okinawa on, I had always longed to visit “the real Japan”.

    Now 23 years later, riding on the long bus ride into Tokyo from Narita airport with my own 10-year-old, I look out the window searching for a fulfillment to that long-held dream. In the sprawl of freeway, squat concrete office buildings are stacked together like a child’s building blocks. They seem so small and insubstantial, like a giant movie set, that it’s easy to imagine Godzilla stomping through them. The freeway is built so close to the buildings, that I can look in at office workers, just on the other side of the window.

    We drive and drive. JQS, who has been awake on adrenaline the entire flight, finally falls asleep. This makes getting him off the bus, getting our suitcases and checking in with hundreds of other people on the JET Program, a feat.

    At last we are alone in our room. Earlier, I had resented the fact that CLAIR made me pay for half a room for JQS, rather than sharing with another participant like everyone else. But now I’m relieved to have a room to ourselves. We look out our hotel window at the endless lights of Tokyo. We are finally here, but it still seems just beyond our reach.