Friday, 24 December 2010

A Very Christmas Story

I lied. I don't really do Christmas very well. I much prefer my birthday, when I'm the only one getting presents. Instead, I thought I'd write about the very first friend I made in Japan, and how I ended up being responsible for his death.
Merry Christmas!

When I was 15, I decided Japan was the place for me. I'd never been, but that was where I belonged. So with the help of my parents I made contact with a family in Japan who were willing to look after me for three weeks.
I didn't speak Japanese particularly well, I didn't know what these people looked like, and I hadn't even spoken to the family I was going to be staying with. For added hilarity, once I'd turned up at Heathrow (on my own, naturally), I discovered my passport was out of date. I phoned Dad in floods of tears, as you do, and he told me to just try getting through on it, and to deal with getting a new one once I got to the other side. Sound advice, dad.
So my first ever solo plane journey, to a place I'd never been, on an expired passport. Somehow, though, I got through security and onto the plane- even with my crippling inability to tell a believable lie. Hard to imagine now, after 9/11- though I keep hearing reports of people forgetting they've got a loaded gun in their bag and still getting on board, so who knows.

I still remember flying over Japan, which is quite an accomplishment for someone with an atrocious memory like mine. Tiny, tiny pockets of civilisation springing up wherever deep green mountains weren't. Mountains! We don't have any in England. It was beautiful.
And then the plane flew over where I was going to be living- Nagoya. Grey, boring, deliciously disappointing, it satisfied my craving for disillusionment.

Anyway, the landing, passport control, baggage reclaim etc went without incident, and being quite a small airport (this was before the more modern one was built) it wasn't long before I was out into that terrifying corridor where you hope someone's waiting for you with a card with your name on. No-one was.

You know, I think awful airport experiences follow me? Anyway.

Eventually I met up with the family who'd adopted me, and they took me home- to a village some way away from the city, right by the beach. There was an earthquake that night, the first one I'd ever experienced. In retrospect, it might have been a Sign.

In the morning we went fishing on a boat in the bay, bathed in the odd pink light of pre-dawn. It was cold and unspeakably beautiful, and I couldn't quite believe I was there.
Anyway. I didn't really know these people, they didn't know me, and we communicated mostly through gesture. We managed, though, and I got the impression they were rather lovely (which they were). My host dad beckoned me over, patted me on my life-jacket padded back, and presented me with a fishing rod, beaming. I beamed back, took it in hand, and tried to explain that I had absolutely no idea what to do with it, armed only with one handed gestures. He put the bait on the hook thingy, mimed the thing you do where you flick the rod and the line goes out, and I did it. I did it! It worked! I had earned the approval of my not-dad!
Suitably impressed, he went to deal with his own lines, and I was left to bask in my own success.

For a long while, nothing happened. I hear this is fairly typical experience, and I wasn't too worried about it at the time, just enjoying being out on a boat (a boat! A real one!) with the sun coming up, stillness, quiet. I might have had some kind of Japanese spiritual awakening and started writing poetry if I hadn't been distracted by a tugging on the line.

I'd accidentally caught something. Now what?!
I called my not-dad over, gesticulated wildly- and he helped me reel in my catch.

See, I'm not actually a great fan of fish. I guess I only really have sympathy for things I find cute? Not sure. But I hadn't caught a fish. Clinging to the bait on the end of my line was the tiniest, cutest baby octopus I'd ever seen. Admittedly the first I'd ever seen, but I've seen a few since then and this one was undoubtably the best.
Not-dad laughed and used one of the few Japanese words that just about anyone with a passing interest in the country knows, say it with me: kawaii, and I nodded vigorously, delighted- and let him deposit the little squirming ball of adorableness in my hand. He was smaller than my palm, brown-purple and lovingly docile. Balancing the rod against the rail carefully I rummaged in my pocket for my camera, at which point not-dad returned, took my little friend, placed him on the deck and hit him with a stick.

It was the shape of things to come.


  1. Poor octo-babie... :(

  2. Not only was it a sweet little baby octopus, but might have been another Sign! Is it obligatory to include an octopus photo if I comment? Oh well, better play safe; here's one of my favourites: