09 November 2007
they let us loose on the streets of tokyo, they did. something like 9:30 at night and they said go, see, explore. you have one hour. be back on the bus in an hour. and we were just teenagers so what were they thinking? I'm telling you, I could hardly believe it. back then, I could hardly believe it but now that I'm a mother and I've seen the world with my own two eyes, well, I still just really can't believe that they let us loose like that. a lot can happen in an hour, you know. especially where 18 year-old girls are involved.
it was the summer of 1989 and I'd just graduated from the cincinnati school for creative and performing arts. our music theatre and dance company had been invited by the city of gifu (cincinnati's sister city) to travel to japan and perform and so off we went. it was my first time in an airplane, my first time in a foreign country, my first time performing abroad. so yes, there are plenty of stories to be told but I am overwhelmed when I think of them all and vow to write them each down, one by one. when I think of my time in japan, I often think of small things: slender pink cans of strawberry juice and narrow streets lined with paper lanterns. I think of how shy I was to bathe in the traditional japanese bathhouse and how I relaxed once the I saw all the women laughing, pouring buckets of hot water over the tops of their heads. I think of how school girls asked me for strands of my hair and how they formed in delicate swarms around me when I said yes. I remember how they spoke such fantastic english and how embarrassed I was that I spoke such poor japanese. I remember exotic fish dishes and poached eggs for breakfast and how it seemed like every car in japan was white. when I start to think about those two weeks, it comes back to me in full color and all at once. and I feel deliciously overwhelmed.
but today is about that last night and that hour we were let loose. tokyo is very much like times square times ten with every color possible everywhere and all of it electric and sounds and noises all over the place and people for days and days. something like 30-40 of us, all of us teenagers and we scattered like confetti in every direction once the green flag was raised. me and my two friends, we took to the back streets. I am faint just thinking of an 18 year-old ava roaming the back streets of tokyo but that's what we did. we wandered into a tiny dark bar (nightmare of all parents) and flirted with the patrons (more parental nightmare material) until we noticed the wall behind the bartender that was covered from floor to ceiling with paper money from all over the world. I hastily scribbled hearts onto an american one dollar bill and felt terribly important as I watched him tack it up there with all the rest. I remember his easy grin, his heavy-lidded eyes and I fell in love with the idea that I'd left a little something behind in tokyo. I wonder, is it still there? wouldn't it be something if it was still there?
we managed to fit a great deal into that meager 60 minutes. we wandered in and out of offbeat boutiques and I spent the last of my money on a pair of shockingly pink tights. because they reminded me of all that electric tokyo neon and I wanted to say that I'd bought something in a high fashion clothing boutique downtown tokyo. plus, tights were all that I could afford. and then the three of us crammed into a red wooden phone booth and posed for photographs and then yes, even better-- we found a photobooth. after that, we bought packages of dried seaweed and squid because it looked cool and it seemed like the right thing to do. and then it was time to go. we got on the bus and immediately made the driver cut our photobooth strip into four different frames. miraculously, we'd all made it back onto the bus. I can't believe everyone made it, every last one of us-- no one got lost, or went missing or showed up drunk or high or ended up arrested. it's a miracle, it is.
I like to think we really milked that one hour in tokyo. squeezed the most possible from sixty minutes in one of the most exciting cities in the world. funny, all I have to show for it is this tiny little photobooth frame. who knows what happened to the pink tights. or the seaweed or the squid. because I never ate that seaweed. or the squid. I just brought it home with me and bragged to my brothers that I loved to eat dried seaweed and squid and when they doubted me, I raised my eyebrows and produced said packages. anyway, it's all gone and of course, I fell completely out of touch with the two friends. last I heard, heather was performing in small parts on and off broadway and christy was working as a musician in nashville. I wonder, do they both still have those tiny photobooth pictures? do they occasionally look at the frame and remember that night like I do? I wonder. girls, if you're out there: here's to tokyo.
and here's to photobooth friday:
story of my life