Unexpected Return to Japan

The Tokyo Night painting

My seat was in business class, so it was very quiet and there were just a few people in the cabin. A man sitting in front of me was watching my favourite Jennifer Aniston’s movie, “Bruce Almighty” which I had seen in New York City with John.

A flight attendant brought me a meal, but it had meat in it. I said to her that I didn’t eat meat and then she changed it to a vegetarian meal. She served me really well. I was tired and also was not happy about going back to Japan. But I felt relieved for many reasons.

the sky above land

When the airplane was approaching Japan, I looked down from the window to see what I could see. There was Japan right below. The airplane was just passing over the north part of Japan. It was an unexpected return to my home country and I felt it was unreal.

I seemed to only be partly aware that I was about to land in my country, and on the other half, I was feeling like I was Urashima Taro. That meant that I felt like I was in a fairy tale or in a dream. Urashima Taro is one of the most well-known Japanese fairy tales about a man who went into the sea and experienced a dream life. And when he came back up to his village, he realized that he had got really old.

I kept looking at the island of Japan from the window as if looking at a rarity or something I had never seen before. Just like Urashima Taro, I felt that I had got old and felt like I hadn’t been to my country for a very long time. It was because many things had happened in my life and I had experienced so many new things during the last four years. It had only been four years since I left Japan the second time for Ireland with little money. I had been away from Japan only for four years, but I felt like I got old and it felt very strange that I was then going to land in my home country again.

The airplane arrived in Japan. I left the airplane and walked through the passage to the airport. Then, I saw a big sign that said, in Japanese, “Okaerinasai” (Welcome back home) above the entrance of the Narita Airport. I was a little moved when I saw the sign. For me, the last few weeks in the US had been very hard.

I exchanged my traveller’s cheques for Japanese Yen, and I took a local train to the Ueno station. I saw some foreigners on the train from the airport who exited the train at Ueno. At Ueno Station, I bought a ticket back to my town. After that, I called my mother from a public telephone.

She answered and she sounded like she was really relieved when I said that I had just arrived in Japan. She didn’t know that I was coming to Japan nor what had happened to me in the last few weeks. But she frantically said, “Don’t leave Japan again!”

I had not sent any letters to her for a long time and the last time I contacted her was when I called her from my apartment in Sag Harbour. But it was in the middle of the night in Japan, so I hadn’t been able to talk to her. I only wrote letters when my address changed in Ireland, which was every six months or so. I had been independent before I left Japan and I had no intention of being dependent on her while I was away. So, I did everything to survive and move forward.

On the phone, my mother sounded like she was so glad that I came back and it sounded like she thought I had come back to Japan to live there again. But that was not what I was thinking of doing.

Ueno

Before I went to the platform for my train, I went out of Ueno Station to take a short walk and I made a few sketches of the city. On the bullet train, I forgot where people usually put their luggage and I had to ask a girl sitting next to me if I could put it above the seat.

Tokyo Night

Tokyo Night by Chiho Yoshikawa, 2006

Because of my unusual birth situation, I had become very independent quickly as a child. My mother worked seven days a week, every single day except January 1st and when my sister or I were sick. It was a hotel she was working at and she worked mornings and nights daily and occasionally in the afternoon. My mother and I didn’t spend much time together when I was growing up. So, I grew up without her knowing about me really well.

Although I was not planning to stay or live in Japan after that unexpected return home, I ended up staying in Japan longer than I had thought. It was because I was in contact with John and it took me a while to decide where I would live next. I think that it was an important and memorable time spent with my mother, while she was still relatively young and healthy.

arrived at home at night

I arrived home. It was around nine o’clock at night. It was the end of September 2003. My mother told me that a suitcase and a black leather portfolio bag had been just delivered to our home. They were mine and I had kept my watercolour paintings in the portfolio bag. John must have sent them. All the paintings were in good condition.

There was also a photo of me in it, which was taken at our Sag Harbor apartment. There was a message from John at the back of the photo. I couldn’t read it well as it wasn’t written clearly, but I was able to read the word at the end, which was Sayonara (Good-bye). In fact, it was the only Japanese word he knew.

I talked with my mother for an hour. I had already mentioned John to her in a letter that I had sent from NYC the previous year, so she had known about him for a while. After that, I went to sleep.

full moon