Japan

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Before they drift into the murky past, let me share some thoughts from the trip to Japan. I traveled there at the end of last month to meet Izumi and the kids who had been there for the past two months so Tyler & Julia could go to school in Japan. The Japanese school year overlaps by about six weeks into the US school summer vacation so by taking Tyler out of Kindergarten at the end May, a few weeks early, he was able to get a good two months immersed in Japanese at the local public school down the street from my in-laws in Tokyo.

Both Izumi and I decided that sending the kids to Japanese school would be a wonderful opportunity for them. Because of Tyler’s age, he was not able to go to the Kindergarten that he went to last year. This turned out to be a blessing in disguise. I was worried that Tyler would not be able to keep up with a 1st Grade class going full bore into the end of the year but he did just fine. When I asked him about it, he said that the cafeteria food was better, the math more challenging (and fun), and most importantly, he was psyched because he could go back and tell his friends that he’s already gone to 1st Grade. He didn’t even mention the fact that he was learning a whole new language in the process!

Julia did go to Tyler’s school from last year (here’s a photo of her with her cap & bag). More than just Japanese, her overall verbal skills improved tremendously. Before she left, she was mostly quiet and let her brother do the talking. Now, she’s quick to jump in as well and the dinner table has two little voices that want to give me the download on all the days events.

Izumi was happy to be home and with her parents. She gets strength from her mother who understands her better than anyone else. Tokyo is Izumi’s home, Japanese is her native language, she is the most relaxed there. I had a chance to meet up with some of Izumi’s old friends from school at dinner which was fun. There’s a lot that she had to leave behind when we moved here so it was tough for her to leave again. She has a pretty full plate to handle on her own here and all in her second language.

The schedule was pretty busy but I did get out to the public baths a few times which was fantastic as always. The combination of hot and cold baths with a saunafor good measure is a cure for any ill (physical or psychic). Tyler got into the routine (all except for the “hot air room”) and now appreciates the sense of calm that follows a good long soak. A trip down to a 100 year-old inn on the tip of Izu featured more wonderful baths (trip made possible due to generous grants from my parents who set up the inn and Izumi’s parents who arranged for transport. Thanks!).

Tokyo is so familiar to me. Fits “like an old shoe” I said to my father. I fly into town and there are very specific things that I know I can only get in Tokyo and I know exactly where to go.

  • Stationary store for little staples that fit my handheld stapler
  • Shibuya Loft for Bindex A5 notebook refills which cost a fortune at Patrick’s in SF but are reasonable here
  • Glasses store to replace a broken part – walk in after three years, they remember who I am, fix my part and send me on my way

Sure, there’s JBox when you need a supply of Black Black in a pinch but there’s nothing like stepping through a city and drawing on ten year’s experience to find your way around. It’s especially fun to show Tyler around. He’s young still and was a bit flagged at the end of the day but he was a good sport and indulged me as we played with robotic dogs at the Sony Building, peered through the tunnels out the front of the Ginza line, and checked out the funky scene in Shibuya.

Tokyo has changed of course, it changes from week to week. But the feel of the city will never die, it’s sense of style and its vitality. I still feel like I leave behind some part of me there, even though I left over five years ago. Going back brings on a flood of memories as I flash on events brought on by familiar sights and sounds. I hear that Volga, the old Russian restaurant where Izumi and I were married has closed down. A piece of my Tokyo has faded and will be reinvented and replaced by someone else’s Tokyo. In just the same way new things are being created here – they will become part of our Bay Area and replace something that used to be someone else’s memory of how it used to be.

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