Fish and Friendship in Tokyo

by Jules Older

On our last visit to Japan:

  •  An American businessman told me, “A bunch of hippies got together for three days and took drugs.” He was talking about Woodstock.
  •  We looked out the window of our ryokan and gazed upon a 13th-century pagoda. On the television in our traditional Japanese room, man was taking the first steps on the moon.
  •  And our twin daughters were conceived on a futon in Tokyo.

*  *  *

It was to Tokyo we were returning, decades later. Our friends – Eipan and Hirame, Eiichi and Hiroko – still lived there, and it was way past time to re-une. And we wanted to see the city we’d been so taken with all those years before. How had it changed? How had it not?

When I tell Hirame on the phone that I’m looking for changes, she says, “Expect to see a lot of blonde Japanese.”

I chuckle. “Not your daughters, I bet.” Despite his years as a grad student (and my roommate) in New York, Eipan is very traditional, a samurai businessman with a 6th degree black belt in Judo. I can hear Hirame’s quiet smile all the way from Tokyo. “They’re brown-hair Japanese.” 

It doesn’t take long to spot other changes, other sames. First stop on the bus trip in from the airport is the La Floret Hotel. As the bus doors open, a young woman in a sharply pressed uniform bows deeply. Score one for the same. On the other hand, where the massive hotel – and dozens like it – now stand, there used to be only small shops. The Tokyo skyline has pushed skyward.

At our friends’ home, there’s a similar mixture. We still take off our shoes at the door, but Hirame greets us with a kiss, not a bow. The ofuru, the ubiquitous Japanese hot tub, still awaits, only now it’s kitted out with bubbles, programmable water jets and digital temperature controls that can be operated from the kitchen.

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