Life is strange. I’m staying in a university guest house in the neighborhood where I was born in Tokyo. I walk to the temple and shrine each morning and say prayers, meditate, sit, and write. Wandering by the site where our house once stood, I saw an elderly woman outside and asked her if she had been living there long and if she remembered my family. She seemed surprised at first but slowly memories started to come back and she recalled the many members of my family that had lived in different houses on the same narrow street. She especially remembered my mother as a stylish young lady who had left an impression on her as a little girl.
In the photo my mom Toshiko is a young girl posing for the camera in her new clothes. Adopted by her older sister, she had been taken to Tokyo and raised as an only child. She had fine hair and was teased as corn silk (トウモロコシのひげ), and with her fair-skin and tall and slim body she stood out. When she returned from the big city to visit her family in their provincial hometown the country girls gawked at her and called her a foreigner (外人). We don’t know where these biological features come from, but my grandmother often comforted me for looking different by saying I greatly resembled my great grandfather.
I listened as the old neighbor talked of the gardens and rice fields that once surrounded our houses and how we survived the wartime fire bombings that destroyed huge areas nearby. Now the sounds, sights, and smells of the crowded city fill the street. We looked at each other and smiled, reveling in the nostalgic moment, recalling days long gone. She repeated how she remembered my family as her neighbors. I apologized for surprising her and interfering with her day and as I was walking away thought how sweet it is simply to be remembered by others.