* * * * *
If anything, the moment I had with Takinori made me even more deeply conflicted. This righteous anger had been building for so long that it felt good to have released it, if only to one person. I also felt deeply ashamed for so fiercely focusing the anger I had toward all of these men onto one person. I carried that weight around for some time—just the feeling that Takinori San was out there carrying all this shame for the rest of them. There was no way to spread it around justly though.
It paralyzed me. I didn’t know how to react when men continued to accost me. In some ways that release just filled a reservoir for more frustration to rush in all at once.
It was summer now, and I wanted more than anything to be able to walk to the park in a sundress with my hair out, smelling flowers and lying on the grass. I had a rare weekday off from work and decided to do it anyway. There was a park nearby to my apartment, but I had been wanting to see Sumpu Park, the ancient seat of the overlords of the Prefecture. It was a twenty-minute walk that was relatively uneventful.
I arrived at the park early that afternoon. I wasn’t there for more than a minute before I got a text from Shue. He wanted to meet me as soon as he could get up from Kakegawa. He was out of school, but was visiting with his mother. He told me he’d meet me outside the castle in an hour or so.
I walked around the perimeter of the castle taking a few pictures of the monolithic white walls and the sloping curves of the red-tiled roof. From the path outside the castle, you could look down into the moat where scores of plump orange carp moved through the calm dark water with a slow, easy will. From the island inside the ancient moat, the city seemed a strange conglomeration of concrete and glass. Here there was green and serenity, and just a stone’s throw across the water, there was this frenetic civilization born out of this former seat of shogun power. It was impossible to reconcile modern Shizuoka City with this park’s reverent beauty and the castle’s resonant energy. I felt a strong pull to immerse myself in the castle’s timeless space.
I approached the entrance. As I got near, I heard children—lots of exuberant little Japanese voices echoing off the walls, the stone pavement, and the massive wooden rafters. The enormous gate stood open, welcoming now the masses it was designed to exclude in ancient days.
“Sugoi!” I heard the voice of a little girl say. “Sugoi kirei yo!”
From the moment that first little girl caught sight of me it was all over. Within seconds I had a swarm of schoolchildren hovering around me smiling, laughing, touching, and trying to catch my attention. I felt like the empress of this old castle with a throng of adoring little subjects following my every step. The teachers were so shocked by my presence that they made no effort to intervene. At one point they stopped everyone to gather and take a group picture with me. They insisted I take a picture with my camera too. I learned that there were two schools, one from Okabe-cho and the other from Fujinomi. They were small towns where probably none of these students had ever seen a white person, much less a blonde.
They touched my skin, one of the boys saying in Japanese, “Wow, it’s so soft, just like my mother’s skin.” One of the little girls started singing—or it seemed like it was singing, the way little Japanese girls so often talk—she said, “Kirei, kirei, kirei, enzeru mitai yo, mitai yo!” (Wow, she looks like a beautiful beautiful beautiful angel, she looks like.) The others began to echo her little song. They didn’t ask me my name, but just kept calling me “Enzeru, Enzeru,” as they were trying to get my attention. I told them over and over in Japanese, maybe twenty or thirty times, “Please. I am not an angel. I am an American girl.”
They had come on a field trip to learn about the history of Shizuoka Prefecture, the castle and the park, the armor of the samurai, the katanas, the art and the architecture. They were touching my hair over and over again. Petting it. It was hard not to smile at such unbridled surprise and joy, but it was overwhelming. I took a few pictures of the castle’s interior and retreated across the footbridge to the street on the far side of the moat.
I followed the water along the street, looking down at the mottled, orange-and-white carp. There were trees lining the interior of the moat, encircling the park in a screen of foliage I’d never seen within Shizuoka City before. A car honked its horn at me and slowed. I walked past it before the driver had the chance to get his window down.
On a side street, I spotted a sleepy little park with maybe ten or so trees. From a distance, it looked like I could hide there without being bothered. As I approached, I began to understand why no one was sitting in the park. I could hear cicadas. In all that expanse of greenery in Sumpu Park, I’d only heard a few cicadas, but in this small space there had to be thousands. I sat on a bench in the middle of these ten trees as the thousands of cicadas vibrated. The noise was deafening and escaped any kind of characterization I could conjure. I could see the cicadas crawling all over the trees, like little crayfish, buzzing collectively with the force of a jet engine.
I blocked my ears and listened to the loud, dull hum. Closing my eyes, I sat for minutes, out of the sun, away from people, the whole world humming. I started to feel my white skin pulsating with millions of tiny waves. Then I remembered that Shue would probably be there soon.
I met him a few minutes later on the sidewalk by the moat. I didn’t want to go back near the castle. We stood for a while looking at the water, talking. I asked him how long the carp live.
“Wakanai. Nan de?” (I don’t know; why do you ask?)
“I was just wondering,” I said, speaking without thinking first. “If I came back to Japan in ten years, would any of these same fish still be alive?”
He didn’t say anything, and as soon as I’d said it, I wished I hadn’t. I’d never mentioned that the possibility of leaving Japan had ever entered my mind. There was silence for almost a whole minute, save for the passing of a couple cars and the hum of the cicadas far in the background.
Finally, he asked me what I did that day. I told him about the schoolchildren in the castle, the way they had swarmed around me and the things they’d said. I told him that it made me uncomfortable being compared to an angel.
“You do look-a like kirei angeru, dakara.” (beautiful angel, because)
“Stop it, Shue. Don’t call me that.”
He looked surprised and didn’t say anything, but he didn’t apologize. I decided to change the subject.
“I sat in the park over there for a while too,” I said. “There are thousands of cicadas there. I can’t describe what they sound like. I’ve never heard anything like that in America.”
“Sound like summer,” Shue said. “Everyone says so.”
“They’re such strange creatures,” I said. “Everything about them is so foreign—the way they look, the sound. I learned from one of my students that cicadas hatch out of the ground. Like aliens or something.”
Shue started laughing.
“Arien?” he said. “You arien, Lizzu Chan. That-a you too.”
“What did you just say?”
“Is not this word?” he said, miffed by my agitation. “So, we use same word as English, I think. When a Japanese move to America he is arien until he can become citizen, and in Japan you are also arien. So ka?”
I shook my head at him. I couldn’t believe he’d use that word to describe me after he’d kissed me and held me in his arms.
“Is that what you think of me, Shunsuke? That I’m just a foreigner, an alien?”
“Lizzu Chan, nani?” he said. “Not what I say. Government of Japan say so.”
“So it must be true then?”
He smiled and joked, “Lizzu Chan, Arien Angeru. Manga no hiro desu.” (Cute little Lizzu the Alien Angel, comic book hero.)
I hit him the chest, and I felt like a child striking someone so much bigger. I walked away, and Shue followed me.
“Nani?” (What?) “Na-ani?”
“Don’t follow me!” I said. “I don’t want to talk to you.”
“Lizzu? Nan de?”