Appearances can be deceiving to a child.
For those of you who reading who don’t already know, my family and I lived in Nishiazabu, Tokyo, Japan from December 7th, 1987 until sometime the summer of 1993.
Wednesday, January 7th, 2009 I set out to return to our home for the first time on my own (We visited there briefly as a family in 2003).
With my mother’s foolproof instructions in hand, I set off for Hiro-o Station.
Information to work from:
Address: 3-5-18 Nishi-Azabu
Neighboorhood: Nishi-Azabu, Mikato-Ken
Walking Instructions: Walk towards Roppongi Dori. Look for park/school.
Oh, and in case you think having an address should have made this process easy, keep in mind I cannot read Hiragana, Katakana, or Japanese addresses.
I wanted to see if I could find the place on my own via memory with the help of her guidance, but I realized I would need at least a little help getting started. I was definitely not hiring a taxi, but I did take the opportunity to ask a pretty girl walking out of the train with me if she knew the location of a Nishi-Azabu park.
She did not, but took the time to ask the gentleman working behind the ticket counter, and he found it on the map near my address. I said thank you, and she then walked off with her boyfriend whom I did not realize was patiently standing there waiting. Good chap, salt of the earth those type of gentlemen.
Park was two stoplights away, and I set off at 18:06. Arrived soon enough, and was happy to find there was a public bathroom, although there was no door cover, and pedestrians could clearly see my using a urinal as they passed. Japan.
Park did not strike me as familiar, but I wandered around for a bit anyway. Neighborhood did strike me as comfortable, but that in no way meant I knew where to go. I wandered about for maybe thirty minutes, impressed with all the gorgeous houses and lovely – still green – foliage.
Frustrated and making no discernible progress, I headed back to the main street. Before the park I had seen a short hill, that had struck my memory chord. When I was a kid I remember going very fast on my bike down a hill by our home. I assumed naturally, the first hill I saw was the same one.
Sensed it was a little small, but wandered down it and saw a big fence, which again struck a memory chord, as the hill of my past ended in a fence. Followed the fence around the curve and up a hill. Seemed slightly less familiar, but I decided to go with the flow.
Fifteen minutes or so later, nothing felt too familiar. Decided to head back down to the station and the map and re-start.
Found the first park I was told to go to, then kept looking. Found another park surprisingly close to where I just had left, and lo and behold it was next to a school. Looking back I’m not sure why, but I chose then to focus on the last of the three digits in the address. There was a zone 18 nearby the park/school. I felt golden.
Walked back down the “familiar” hill, then stopped to ask a cab driver for directions. I wasn’t going to give him the address, but I was about an hour into my search at this point, and was getting frustrated. He confirmed the location of the nearby park and school.
With a spring in my step, I bounced all the way to the park. Nearby was another map conveniently enough, which allowed me to make sure I was in the correct spot, and it appeared I was. Took a left past my two signposts, then headed into the heart of the residential district.
Was looking for 18, but had a sinking feeling in my stomach as I kept seeing the number 4 repeated before another number. 4-5, 4-9 and so on. Kept marching nonetheless, occasionally seeing something which I thought was familiar, but nothing close. Finally got to 4-18, and looked there for at least ten minutes. Have no idea why now, considering 4 was nowhere in the address I had from Mom. A frustrated mind can be quite creative. Also occurred to me the house could’ve been demolished, which was pleasant to consider.
Finally allowed myself to realize the first number 3 was what I wanted, not 4. Tail between my legs, walked back to the map.
By this point, I’d had a solid sample survey of our old neighborhood, Nishi-Azabu. A few things struck me:
- Wealth. In homes, and especially cars. Passed a Lambroghini dealership and saw more Land Rovers in an hour than I have in the previous five months here.
- Many classy small bars and restaurants that looked expensive.
- People were dressed tres chique.
* Disproportionate high number of foreigners around and many embassies.
Once again at the map, I had a eureka moment. Turns out the park I had originally been told to visit was actually next to a school as well. AND, that combo was in the “3″ district.
Picked out the zone 18 again on the map and went on my way. Drew a small sketch on some scrap paper this time to help. Worked like a charm. Ten minutes later I was close to 3-18. Then, a number 5 on a building got me thinking, I want 3-5. Nearby lightpole had a 3-3 sign. Walked to 3-5, close to praying for some signs of familiarity.
And just before it became 3-6, there it was …
According to pop, one of the first times I went down the hill without training wheels, I went too fast and Icharus-style slammed into the fence.
Or, at least I hoped it was the correct hill and fence. Followed it around, and my hearbeat picked up. It came to an end at an intersection, and I wasn’t sure where to go. Decided to turn みぎ, and then my synapses went into a state normally reserved only for chemicals.
Didn’t really know what to do, as the memories came flushing into my mind’s eye. Saw:
- The basketball hoop my Dad had shipped over from the states in the parking lot.
- Mom setting up the bobbing for apples tub outside our front door for a Halloween party.
- The interior of the house from our kitchen to bathtub to rock garden to Mom and Dad’s bed.
- Sitting at the kitchen table and crying when Dad said we were going back to the US.
K-Flat Daytime View. Hat tip Google Maps Streetview.
After a few moments of reflection, I broke out the pen and strated writing them down. More and more came, some of which I’d thought of in the past few years, some of which I hadn’t remembered for over a decade and a half. The sweetest of the former being when a teacher punished me for beating up an older kindergartener by stealing my shoes and I cried in response. The latter’s best the Day Jeffrey was born, going to buy him a gift with Pop and then seeing Mom in bed at the hospital.
Or, watching early morning cartoons and fantasy shows on Sunday morning before church, including Power Rangers before it came to the US and was ruined.
Nobody appeared to be home, but I decided it best not to sit strangely on the steps meditating through my past much longer.
Left with a smile on my face and one of my current Japan trip goals finally checked off.
Slightly off at first.
Continuing down the memory lane, I decided it was finally time to do something I’d been saving for months … going back to McDonalds.
By my Mother’s own admission, she “feels bad for having me eat too much McDonalds” as a kid, but I think I survived alright. That said, can’t really hack it no more on the stuff. That, and I really wanted to experience new things on this trip, plus save McD’s for a special time like this, so I waited.
Headed towards the lights which I soon realized to be the heart of Roppongi. Was distracted on my trip by a visit to an incredible book store (I forgot how intoxicating perusing a good store can be) and by some gentelmen asking me questions and offering me invitations of a nature I haven’t heard or received since I was last in Amsterdam.
Turned them down though, informing them much to their disappointment I was headed to McDonalds.
Ordered my staple, and then gleefully went upstairs to enjoy the \560 feast. Started on a bad note when I asked for ketchup, though:
One tub is put on my plate.
I cannot tell good wine from bad, nor camembert from kraft, but I know a fucking good McDonalds franchise. Despite its cleanliness, this was not one.
The fries had been sitting out for way too long, and were lukewarm at best. That is the time to throw them away, not serve them to a customer. Coke had barely any ice in it. Burgers were warm a plus, but condiment mix wasn’t right, and were hard to enjoy as I didn’t have enough ketchup to properly dip them.
Mood quickly moved from ecstatic to satisfied. Finished the meal, but didn’t enjoy nearly as much as I would at even an average McDonalds.
Grade: D+ (Plus only because the burgers were warm).
Headed back outside, and again was pestered with invitations to a place with pretty girls. Spot’s name was Kenobi, salesman said something about Obi-Wan. As that individual had waited for me outside McD’s for my entire meal, I finally agreed only to take a look.
Five seconds and several smiling ladies faces in, I realized not only was this spot outside my price range, despite its name they taught the dark side of the force. Besides I was trying to have an innocent evening.
Upon exiting was greeted with a site I barely remembered: Hard Rock Tokyo. We went there quite regularly. Walked up and when I saw the ad for a chocolate shake, decided it was an appropriate way to conclude my childhood evening.
Bartender, excited to make a milkshake.
Bartender was less than enthused when I asked for a shake instead of a beer, but after I practiced some bad Japanese he quickly turned around. Helped me out too, teaching me the Kanji for “gaijin” which is in the new Left in Front logo.
Looking back on my strange trip, I know realize how spoiled and selfish I was for those years in Tokyo. Our neighborhood was, and is breathtaking, and I had so many of my wishes granted. Yet, for all that, I still refused my Dad time and again when he asked me to go play catch, or was so fussy that I forced my Mom into making chocolate milk for me on a daily basis, because I wouldn’t drink the white stuff.
Of course, was also nice to remember the good times like setting up my tent on top of my bed, or Mom standing, riding her bike with Jeffrey in the child seat in back and me in the regular seat . Just interesting for me at this stage to also consider how little I realized what the luckyness of the situation I’d been born into and appreciate it more.
So, if you’re reading Mom and Pop, thank you for everything. I love, you and am sorry for being an ungrateful pill far too often.
And to think, this was the best portrait I could get.