Last weekend I had the chance to hang out with Holly Thompson in Yokohama. Holly discussed her essay “Two Versions of Immersion” at the SWET event honoring Call Me Okaasan. In her essay, she writes a bit about how her son was bullied in public school in Japan, but she assured us that he is now a happy college student, thriving in his new multicultural environment. Holly contributed a short story to my first anthology, The Broken Bridge, and is the author of Ash, a wonderful novel set in Japan, and a picture book, The Wakame Gatherers, which features a bicultural family (white mother/Japanese dad).
Here, she shares a typical day in her adopted city:
All days start with laundry. I start the wash as I shower and dress, then hang the clothes by 7, the poles and plastic pegs on the laundry balcony still damp with dew. I eat a quick cereal breakfast while glancing at newspapers, go over plans for the day with my husband and daughter, and walk to the nearest train station in our Yokohama neighborhood, stopping at the local bakery for one of their combo sandwiches with sections of different fillings—chicken salad, pumpkin with raisins, burdock root and carrot, cucumber and egg. By 7:30 I board the train at the door that will let me off ten minutes later precisely in front of the down escalator at my transfer station. The crowd at my transfer is thick—students, office workers, laborers. I thread my way through the station and up a shopping street to another station. I catch a second train crammed with high school students and their large gym equipment and musical instrument bags; when I disembark a few stops down the line, I am in a sea of students headed to nearby schools.
At the university, all is still quiet though; few students take first-period classes. At 8:50 I teach a composition class. The new term has just begun; we read a descriptive essay, do pre-writing exercises, and review guidelines for typing a composition, including pointers such as where the Tab key is; despite the fact that all my students have achieved 500 TOEFL scores, few have ever written a composition in English. Second period is another advanced English elective—creative writing poetry. We workshop list poems they wrote for homework and go over basic elements of poetry, then I introduce them to narrative poems. We read Donald Hall’s “Maple Syrup” which requires too much explanation of vocabulary—cobweb, root cellar, saphouse, vat; I madly draw pictures all over the board, and the talk of sugaring makes me miss New England acutely. I assign them Gary Soto’s “Oranges” to read for homework. During lunch I have a cup of tea in my office, eat my combo sandwich, answer questions from students who drop by, and briefly Facebook chat with my son at university in New York. Third period I teach an advanced discussion class focusing on a Pacific War incident. By 2:30 I am finished teaching. For the next two hours I do prep work, then by 4:30 I leave the university.
On the return trip I stop at a stand for vegetables and fruit, and a grocery store for minced chicken, ginger root, and pickled eggplant. I am heading to the U.S. for a conference the next day, and I want a Japanese dinner. When I reach our house I find my daughter home, her gymnastics practice having been canceled because her coaches are competing at a meet. She and I talk about our days then we each put on running gear for a quick run. A teenager, she chooses a different route from me. The bats are already out, turning and dipping above my head as I jog through the park in the dusk with a few other runners and dog walkers.
Back home, my daughter starts the rice in the rice cooker and grates the ginger for our minced chicken and leek main dish. I prefer brown rice, but she, having attended Japanese elementary school, prefers pure white rice. We make spinach with sesame seeds and soy sauce, and put the pickled eggplant in a small bowl. It is a simple meal, but a family favorite. She and I eat together, not waiting for my husband who is working late. Except for our milk glasses, all of our dishes have been made by my husband, a weekend potter since we moved to Japan. After dinner my daughter is on the phone with a friend—switching lazily back and forth from English to Japanese, as they go over a school assignment.
When my husband gets home, we talk as he eats, then I disappear to pack and prepare for my conference—printing out the story I will read, the story I will have critiqued, the novel draft that I will be going over with a mentor I have been assigned. I don’t look forward to the jetlag, or the heavy food, but I’m eager to be at a conference with like-minded English-speaking writers, to be in rooms full of fiction writers.
Later my husband and I go over details—the neighborhood association meeting he needs to attend in my place, our daughter’s schedule, the vitamins I am to pick up in the U.S., the eggplant seedlings I want him to water. I settle into bed nervous as always whenever I will be across oceans from family members, but content with anticipation for the conference.
And then I remember that the laundry is still hanging outside, gathering the evening dampness.