Well it’s been forever since I updated the blog – a combo of being overwhelmed with work and overwhelmed with how much there was to write about in the trip. So to get things back on track , I’ll give a synopsis of the trip.
On Thursday, Dad showed up in Japan while I was still at work and navigated his way from Narita to the hotel with the help of my Japanese “Please return to his mommy at Peninsula Marunouchi” cheat sheet.
I had to stay back at work and then wait for the internet guy to install my fiber-optic line which ended up being a more elaborate process than expected. There was a cherry-picker, installation of myriad boxes, and two installers – a guy who connected everything and a woman who stood in the street, watched, and periodically shouted “daijoubu!”
But all that finished by around 5 and I made it in to Tokyo around 7; grabbed a key from the front desk of the hotel; and opened the door to a dark room illuminated only by the lights outside. And there was my Dad, completely obscured by blankets and pillows, totally passed out. I woke him up; got a sort of a half-asleep greeting. Realizing he wasn’t gonna be going out to dinner, I grabbed some katsudon and went to sleep.
We got up at 6AM and hopped the train to my town. (Luckily Hibiya station is directly under the hotel.) And so Dad saw my weekly routine on the train to/from Tokyo. We went to the North Elementary School and he sat in on my classes. The kids liked him and seemed to have the epiphany that me, the freak giant gaijin, was not the product of virgin birth. After four classes and a long meeting at the East Elementary School, we trained it back to Tokyo and I exposed him to the right, greasy-spoon, limited menu, tempura/katsudon restaurant I go to twice a week. (What would Tony Bourdain do?)
Funny thing I noticed: my Dad knows the word “arigatou” but not at all in practice. When he tries to say thank you to a Japanese person, what comes out is a stilted bow and something like “arehyo.” Granted, he’s never studied Japanese, but he can say it right in the States so why not here?
Saturday came and we went to the controversial Yasukini-Jinja (shrine). It was near the hotel and frankly I didn’t know if foreigners were actually welcome, so I thought the ideal time to go would be with Dad. Yasukuni is notorious in the international community and even among many in Japan because it denies the despicable crimes committed by the Japanese before and during World War II in places like Burma and Nanjing. It also offers a resting place for the souls of 13 convicted Japanese war criminals (and one who died before he could be convicted). This was the shrine that Koizumi went to a few years back, stirring up a lot of sub-surface tension between China and Japan.
As it turned out, it was less offensive than I had anticipated. The worst of it was actually just disgusting semantic choices like referring to the annihilation of millions of people throughout Asia as “incidents.” And I can’t really get down with their assertion that America inextricably drew Japan into the war. (COUGH PEARL HARBOR COUGH.) A side note: the whole thing reminded me of something I noticed with my students: very few seem to know Hawai’i is a part of the United States. The significance of Peal Harbor is lost when you don’t get that.
However, I was totally surprised at the Hiroshima and Nagasaki parts, which were pretty even-handed and even seemed to recognize that the war would have cost more lives without them (barbaric, and awful as the A-Bombs were).
For a change of pace, we went into Shinjuku and I showed Dad Isetan. And then we went out to dinner with Kelly’s parents, Kazu (my boss from last summer), and his wife, Emi. Really a good time as I get along with Kelly’s parents to a degree that makes even Kelly uncomfortable, and Kazu is the man. The food was pretty good too. The next morning we’d be leaving for Ho Chih Minh City, Vietnam...