My family lived in Hayama when I was three and four years old. I remember our house with the wooden floors, and building a snowman in the front yard with my mother. It was the first time I’d seen snow. I was disappointed we didn’t have any coal for eyes.
There was a man with a pedal-cart who rode up the hill calling, ‘Oishii yaki imo!’ We called him ‘The Ishiyakimo Man’. The roasted sweet potatoes were perfect for a cold Winter’s night, and I remember they cost ¥50. I remember walking in the town on a warm Summer day, and visiting Tokyo and seeing Tokyo Tower (which is very fun to say repeatedly when one is three years old!).
I remember watching Tetsu-Jin on TV, and I had a Tetsu-Jin inflatable toy.
I could speak Japanese at the time, and translated for my mother. She said the only time I failed was when I didn’t know how to tell the plumber there was ice in the pipes. She found me speaking Japanese to a dog once and asked me why. I told her, ‘It’s a Japanese dog!’ Of course I would speak Japanese to it!
I received much attention in Japan, having white-blond hair and blue eyes.
There was a channel in town. I don’t remember how deep it was, but it must have been at least ten feet deep. It was masonry, and had a rectangular cross-section. A trickle of water ran in the bottom. I was shocked and amused when a man went to the edge and urinated into it. My sister, who was 11 or 12, explained it was the custom there. I remember the day was very hot and I wanted to play in the water. But not so much after I saw the guy urinating in it.
We had wicker bar stools in the house. I liked to lay one on its back so that the metal legs projected behind, and the back was on the floor. Thus the back became the seat and the seat became the back. I’d sit in it and it was my rocket ship. Our (Japanese) maid was amused. I had a long, plush snake and I warned him not to get his tail in the fire (rocket exhaust).
When we came back to the States my parents would speak Japanese to me, but I’d answer in English. Remember the dog? He was in Japan, so I spoke Japanese to him. Since we were back in the States, it was logical that I would speak English. It made sense when I was four. More’s the pity. I wish I could still speak it. Now I’ve only a few phrases.
I still love Japanese food. When I was a kid (in the States) we’d go to a Japanese restaurant and I’d always get the sukiyaki (s’kiyaki). Good stuff! Nowadays I prefer other dishes. I should find some sukiyaki for nostalgia’s sake. (Or nostalgia’s sake. Ha!)
On our trips to Tokyo I remember the lights. Everything was Bright and Shiny. Neon everywhere. And chrome. This was the mid-'60s and everything was New and Modern. One place we went, it may have been a restaurant, had water outside. I remember little bridges and coral. Another place we visited had pearl divers, women dressed in white coveralls who dived for pearls. I thought they were pretty. I seem to recall sort of an aquatic park-type setting, where there was a huge glass panel through which you could see the divers under water.
‘You can’t go home again.’ No doubt Hayama has changed greatly in four decades. Who knows if our little house is still there, even if I knew the address? Now that I’m no longer a child, I doubt Tokyo would be as wonderful as it was through the eyes of a three- or four-year-old. Still, I’d like to go back one day.