Tag Archives: Japanese


we started our day
at the Hilton Beijing Wangfujing
where two cultures collide
at the breakfast buffet.
Crispy bacon
and pork dumplings.

I found China
vibrant and dynamic.
A twelve year-old boy
of a nation,
outgrowing his clothes
faster than his parents
can replace them.
Vulnerable white ankles
glowing between
red converse
and too-short jeans.

As always,
with vacations,
I was happy for the journey
and happy to head home.

In the taxi
to the Beijing airport
the driver kept calling
our home country
“Air Canada”
which led to some confusion
and interior-hilarity.

After three days
of Qingming Festival
(the tomb-sweeping days)
and closed factories
the Beijing skies were blue.
The bluest of twelve
days in China.

Tucked into my seat
on the plane,
one word
rumbled through my mind
like a steam engine.
Japan Japan Japan.

Home of my heart.

Temperature check,
luggage retrieved
in record time.
In the Customs line,
I greeted the officer
with “Konbanwa”
which means good evening.
He replied in Japanese.
“I’m sorry” I said. “I don’t understand.”
“How long have you lived in Japan?”
“One year and a half.”
“Please learn Japanese.”

I think I mumbled “Okay”
as he handed back my passport.

On the shuttle bus to Yokohama
my posse of inner-gremlins appeared.

Defensive monster:
I work all the time. When would I take classes?
You know nothing about my life.
I already speak English, Spanish and French.
How is this your business?

Denial monster:
Hey! I speak 50 words of Japanese.

Shame monster:
He’s right. I’m a terrible expat.

The women of my iPod
offered their solace.
Rosie Thomas. Adele. Nina Simone.
Couer de pirate. Amy Winehouse.
They sang
“Baby, don’t you worry
cuz you’re home now.
Everything’s going to be okay.”

When we left Japan
the cherry trees
bowed with blossoms.
The blossoms are gone,
replaced by green.

I decide the customs guy
is entitled to his opinion.

Close my eyes
and let it go.

the story of japan and me

{Photo by Jacquie Pender}

Wednesday afternoon,
after climbing 100 bite-sized
(and unexpected) steps
I arrived
red-faced and breathless
at a neighbouring
Yokohama school.
The signs were all in Japanese
and I needed some help
finding the room
for my meeting
and the Counselor
who was expecting me.

The students,
all girls,
moved swan-like
through the school grounds
in pairs and trios.
Holding hands,
they floated slightly above the ground
like characters in a Chagall painting.
Dressed in light blue
cotton dresses
and straw hats,
they channeled
Anne of Green Gables.
Cuteness personified.
Not one of them
spoke English.

The littlest girls
Perhaps they’d never seen a woman
so pink
or so round.

The older girls shushed them…
and then came closer
forming a wonderful ring
of curiosity
around me.
They smiled
and waited.
I repeated the name
of the Counselor
I was meeting.

A bouquet of girls
ran for their teacher
who appeared,
smiling shyly.
She didn’t speak English
but motioned for me
to follow.

At the the main office
four administrators
emerged like toys tumbling
out of a closet.
We all bowed.
And then we bowed again.

I pronounced the name of their school.
It was a statement,
not a question.
They looked at each other
with widening eyes.
Solemnly they shook their heads.
I was at the wrong school!

I started to laugh
and then everyone laughed
and we bowed and laughed

an administrator walked me
outside and pointed
across the street
to the school
where I was expected.

“I’m very sorry”
I said.

“Please do not be sorry.
It is no problem.”
she replied.

This is the story
of Japan and me.
and grace
and forgiveness.)