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August 28th, 2007

Yokohama 1

It took us 24 hours door to door. It always takes us 24 hours door to door--at least from the East coast.

Some of you may not know that I was coming to Japan every 4-5 months for 5 years between 1996 and 2001. I was born in Japan, adopted here from the Tokyo Army hospital when my parents were here during the Occupation and Korean War. Masako Katagiri was my nurse from the time I was a month old, and when we came back to the US when I was 3, she came with us to look after me. Since I was severely asthmatic, I took a great deal of looking after, too. After I was better (and much older), she stayed with the family to look after my mother's mother, who had Altzheimer's and who lived with us. And after my grandmother died, she looked after my mother, who died of cancer in 1974. By that time, she'd become an American citizen and a fixture in the family. She looked after my father until he married again in the early 90's and went to live with his new wife, leaving Masako in possession of his apartment in New York. By the time he died in '96, she wasn't really competent to live alone any more. She didn't want to move to Boston, where she knew nobody but me, and several of her friends were living in a largely Japanese assisted-living place in Astoria, and we were all set to move her in there when she announced that she was moving back to spend her declining years with her family in Japan.

In the event, this didn't work out very well. She couldn't get along with her nephew's wife, who already had an elderly female relative living in her house. She moved out into her own apartment, where Ellen and I visited her a few times, becoming more an more isolated, but still entirely resistant to moving back to America. Eventually. she moved to an assisted living/nursing home/hospital in Chigasaki, a town on the edge of Tokyo's urban sprawl, where she was beautifully looked after until she died in July of 2001. The last time we were in Japan was to attend her funeral and to bring her ashes back to New York, where we buried them with my mother in the crypt of St. Bartholowmew's church in October 2001. Which is another story.

Anyway. When Masako died, Ellen and I said we'd come back to Japan, stay longer than the 7 days I usually spent seeing Masako, and venture beyond Tokyo and Chigasaki. It was very strange yesterday, coming out into the same airport, picking up something to eat on the train at the airport 7/11, and getting tickets. Yokohama is on the way to Chigasaki, so the trip was eerily the same. It's just this time we got off at Yokohama instead of riding all the way to Ofuna and hauling our baggage up and down stairs to get to the Yamamoto line. And we're staying at a luxury hotel instead of in a guest room at a nursing home. That part is a definite improvement.

Masako's not being here, though? That sucks. I keep imagining how much she'd enjoy this place, not to mention the bargain we're getting by being here as part of WorldCon. We're having dinner with her best friends, too: Mr. and Mrs. Yoshikoshi, who live a few blocks from the hotel. We haven't seen them since we stayed with them for the funeral, although we have exchanged Christmas cards. We communicate mostly with smiles and sign language, with little spurts of English and my 3 year old's Japanese, eked out with reference to a Lonely Planet phrase book, but we do communicate. When we really get going, it feels a lot like mind-reading.

Anyway. We're off to find breakfast now, and walk around a bit before the time difference catches up with us again and we have to take a nap before meeting the Yoshikoshis at 4. An evening with them is always an adventure, since Mr. Yoshikoshi is a big-deal businessman, with high standards of how to entertain Masako's American daughter and her friend. I have no idea what they think Ellen's and my relationship is, but they knew Masako approved, and so they treat us as family. Which is all anybody could ask.

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