“Say banzai!” and every child in Japan raises both arms so mama can pull their shirt over their heads and get them ready for the day…or night to come, it is a call to physically raise arms up, a sweet homely thing, which is strange considering Banzai is a war cry meaning ten thousand years of long life, the desperate words on many a Japanese warriors lips as they face certain death, a sakura on the breeze, dislodged from it’s petal blossom branch, and falling to the ground to be trodden underfoot by picnicking revelers under trees, drinking and laughing in the extravagance of the Japanese spring hanami parties. Say banzai, a call to arms, for arms, banzai is hands and doing a way of saying ware ware Nihonjin: We are Japanese! Ware Ware – I and I. For a country with such complicated methods of counting, the word for “we”, including the individual into the group, makes perfect sense.
Of course I could never be Japanese, it is not a club you can earn entrance into, I was barely tolerated for much of the time I was there, but most of the population, but to be frank, why should anyone have welcomed my gaijin lumbering self into their land of sun rising and arms raised? They didn’t have to, and nor did they do it anyway. I like to think I tried, I learnt the language as best as I could with the time I had to spare, I fell in love with the country, the food, my beautiful family; with Grandpa and Grandma, as much as she would let me, with his wild and crazy bosozoku brother Eu and his children he had way too young, and his dorky little sis and her zits and lumpen body and inability to ever repay kindness and understanding with anything approximating it in return. Um…words…hanami, a spring party that happens whenever the cherry blossom finally burst into life, people coming out from under the kotatsu (warm electric table-heater) and blinking into the perfect spring air. Nihonjin – Japanese people, the collective industrious whole that powers Nihon – Japan. Bosozoku – biker gangs of young Japanese rebels, the training ground for some who will go on to join the infamous organized crime gang, the Yakuza, the rest to fade into conventional lives once they have had their rebel yell against the chains of conformity that are so strong in Japan. Sakura – cherry blossoms, seasonally everything is flavored with the cherry blossom, the cherry tree leaves, you have sakura and pickled plum chips, sakura sweet starbucks drinks, sakura flavored cakes, sakura chewing gum, these flavors come and go with the season, only to return as you anxiously wait to see what the sakura painted cups and keitai (cell phone) straps and even Makku-Donurarudotsu (McDonalds) getting into the cherry blossom kick.
The seasons come and go with celebrations, beer cans change from Spring blossoms, to summer fireworks, to fall leaves and then winter snowflakes, you are always grounded in the four seasons that the country is so proud to have, marking time embracing the now and looking forwards to the next. There is a lot to be gained from this way of living, celebrating the blossoms, the heat, the fireworks, the leaves, the snow, the changing familiar patterns of life and the fact that you are living, existing from here to the next and on again, the merry-go-round game, up and down with the painted ponies and the carriages at the now defunct Toshimaen Amusement Park that I loved to go and sit in and wonder how they moved the precious Carousel El Dorado from Coney Island Baby, to Tokyo burb. I’d sit on the horses, the youngest one jammed in front of me, holding the gilded pole, my oldest astride a I small pony or a piggy or waving from a carriage in the heat of a kintsugi summer, broken and shattered but mended with gold.
Banzai! Arms raise in joy, in war, in peace, or simply in going to bed, with your mama popping you into jimjams out of your summer dress, or winter sweater. Ware ware Nihonjin. Ask any Japanese why, why do you do the things you do in this way, good or bad, unfathomable or admirable, and they will proudly declare: ware ware Nihonjin, WE Japanese, our collective, our culture, our way of life. I might not have always found it easy, but looking back there was a lot to be proud of, and if just if Pig had been less of a pig – nothing to do with race or culture, everything to do with mundane evil – I would have been very happy indeed sitting on the outside, looking in and occasionally embraced by those I loved in the place I loved so dearly. I am a foreigner, a gaijin, and cursed with being an outsider looking in forever more. At least San Francisco has opened it’s arms to me to some extent and I am starting to feel like I might just belong one day after so long on the move.
In time I hope domestic violence will be taken seriously, that no husband can say to his wife “if I kill you, I will just say sorry and that I was stressed and I won’t even go to jail,” and that not be an actual probability in any kind of reality for any woman in the country. I hope in time a husband refusing to sign his wife’s visa papers won’t end up with her threatened with being thrown out without her children, her in cuffs, not him, begging for understanding and receiving none. I hope in time that gaijin parents will not be threatened with never seeing their babies again if their marriage breaks up. I hope in time the fairness of the rules will match the beauty of the country. I hope in time to visit as a tourist, not a resident, and take my son to see Shosha Engyoji temple, Himeji castle, and the temples and streets of Kyoto. I hope in time to once again celebrate the coming of spring with a cup of sake and some friends, toasting to Grandpa and his love for his family and praying for sweet rest for one of my favorite people. I hope, but you know me by now, I’m not much one for false hope.
Ware ware gaijin.