Excerpt from Solar Girl and Lunar Boy.
Toward the end of my academic studies I began to obediently panic about my future. “Where would I go? What would I do? Who was I? What would become of me? Would anybody care?”
They were never-ending questions of my age, without any answers except for one. I knew, without any doubt, that I had to leave Hamatombetsu, our coastal town of farmers and fields, where life revolved around chores, children, worship and gossip. Our small enclave of tradition was squeezing me like a bamboo noose. I wanted to explore, expand, walk unfamiliar streets, smell unknown scents and meet people I hadn’t known since pre-school! Except, of course, my dearest friend Kiri.
Kiri and I were inseparable. Our mothers said that they often saw us go to a corner of the playground when we were little, immediately squat down and talk or play together for hours on end. They said it seemed like we were in our own little world. And they were right. There is nothing about my life I haven’t shared with Kiri or she with me. We know each other like our favorite children’s books. She was the only other person who knew of my desire to leave.
At nine years of age I’d gone with my Chichi (father) to Sapporo and seen the sights of the grandest city on Hokkaido. We saw the parks, the baseball stadium and the buildings that were taller than any trees I had ever seen. Chichi had gone to see an old friend named Shogi, who lived in the suburbs. Shogi had treated me like a princess and taken us out for ice cream and treats every day we were there. He’d told my father how lucky he was to have such a beautiful little girl and I’d soaked it in, all the time feigning humility and giggling behind my hands.
Shogi worked downtown and had taken Chichi and I with him one day to see his office. I had never been on an elevator. When it first lifted, I’d felt my stomach fall and grabbed Chichi’s hand, but after the starting moments, was soon asking if we could up and down again and again.
The view from Shogi’s office was unbelievable! My mouth dropped unceremoniously open when he ushered us into his small office with a floor to ceiling window. I remember being careful to not stand to close, afraid that I’d surely fall off the side. The window was so clean I couldn’t see it.
One night Shogi took us to a place called a Karioke Bar. At first Chichi and I watched dumbfounded as people got on stage and sang along with the music. Some of them were so serious and so bad that we couldn’t stop from laughing. Shogi and Chichi must have drank a lot of sake, because it wasn’t long before they were up their grinning from ear to ear and singing like pop stars. They pulled me up to join them for a song. I was mortified at first and hid between their legs, but after some people started applauding I came out and joined them for a few versus. I don’t recall ever seeing my Chichi as happy as he’d been that night.
On our way home the next day my Chichi said, “Shogi is a lot of fun isn’t he?” I smiled. “And you liked the city, right?” I nodded emphatically and looked out the bus at the passing countryside. Then he said, “But don’t you EVER even THINK of us moving there.”
I looked at him in disbelief, asking “why” with my wide-eyed expression.
Without daring to look me in the eye he explained, “It is no place to raise a family. Many in the city are lost. They don’t follow the Buddha’s ways. They’ve made life complex and crave material goods.” He took my hand in his. “Promise me you will NEVER leave Hamatombetsu, OK?”
What could I say? I was a little girl who loved her Chichi and didn’t understand what he was saying.