As evening approached, I was
leaving Temple 30 heading for Shiroku, the nearest train station, to
return home for the night. The
priest caught me on my way out, and suggested that I try to walk to
Mitsumineguchi, the next station, which would knock a couple of
kilometers off of tomorrow’s walk.
Although I was exhausted, it sounded like a great idea, since the
next temple, #31, was over 18 kilometers away.
It would be nice to have a head start in the morning.
On the other hand, I knew that
the last direct train to Ikebukuro was leaving soon, and adding the 25
minutes or so to Mitsumineguchi was a bit of a risk.
It wasn’t the last train, just the last convenient one, so I
decided to chance it.
There I was, at the end of a
long, hot, 20 kilometer-plus day that had included a mountain climb and
some ridge running—and I was walking at top speed right past one
station to a farther one!
About halfway along, I stopped
at a drink machine. It’s
kind of funny out in the country sometimes.
You’re walking a deserted lane, fields of rice and green
vegetables on either side, and suddenly you come to a small cluster of
houses lining either side of the road.
There is often a small family cemetery nearby, and either a
miniature Shinto shrine, a little shed containing a Buddhist statue, or
both. And not uncommonly,
there’s a drink vending machine.
As I bought my drink, a little
girl, around five years old, came jitterbugging out of the house.
The evening cool had set in, the air conditioning was off, and
the time had come to see what was happening in the road.
How surprised she must have been to see a large foreigner, bathed
in sweat (as usual), buying a sports drink from “her” vending
The following conversation took
place, all in Japanese:
Her: (pointing at me): English
Me: Yes, English. (pointing at
Her: No. (giggle) Japanese.
(pause; again pointing) America?
Me: Yes, America. (pointing)
Her: No. (giggle) Japan.
Me: (thinking of the train) OK.
And off I went.
About 10 steps away, she called out:
Her: I’m [unintelligible]
Me: (turning and bowing
hastily) I’m James. Nice
to meet you.
Her: (pointing to her nose in
the Japanese style meaning “me”) Remember me, OK?
Remember me, OK?
Me: I’ll remember you.
And as I set off, I noticed an
old man hunkered down in the garden, pulling weeds, with a big smile on
his face. He had heard it
What gave little Hisako the
confidence to chat so casually with a stranger?
And what prompted her to ask me to remember her?
I have checked with my friends; this is not a usual thing for
children to say, not a parting cliché like “See you again” or
“Take care.” This was a
unique, authentic communication.
I’ll never know why she did
it. But I’ll never, never