“Mom, take my hand!” Will grabs my hand, and in a sea of bodies we ride the wave to the other side of the Shibuya crossing, Tokyo. It is the busiest pedestrian crossing in the world. At the end of the day, about half a million people have moved from one side to the other. Time flies. Less than twenty years ago I was saying to Willy “Hold my hand!” I appreciate Will’s protectiveness, but as we move forward, there is no need. No one is pushing. I detect no aggression, agitation or hostility. The quantity of human beings is a little alarming, but it is so calm. This is my first visit to Tokyo and I am so surprised at how hospitable it feels. So many of my friends had warned me about it being chaotic.
The guys are getting antsy. They are cold, tired and starving. My former neighbors in 402, Etsuko and Motoharu, are meeting us at this famous crossing. We try to get to the statue of Hachiko, but its too crowded. Hachiko is the dog that waited for his master everyday, even after he passed away. Disney made it into a movie a few years back. I feel a tap and here they are! Etsuko and I squeal, hug and jump as only Japanese women can. We are not anonymous tourists taking in the sights. We are here visiting friends. Together, now in an even bigger group, we wade back across the street. This time it is Motoharu who is looking after me. The Housley boys are walking head bent, trying to hear as Etsuko and her friend, Sonomi, talk to them as we venture across. I love eavesdropping on their conversation. I soak up the sound of their voices for it will have to last me a long time. We walk down the street. This is not as easy as it sounds. It is December 29th. It is cold and dark. The streets are packed with young people because it is their first night off for the Japanese New Year vacation.
Etsuko can’t find the place. We laugh at the fact she is lost. She has us stand in a vacant lot with Sonomi as she tries to get her bearings. Motoharu trails after her. I wish I knew what they were saying. Eventually our eatery is found on the fourth floor one street over. We fill the elevator to its capacity limit.
It is a yakiniku place. Grilled meats. Like a play with acts, skewers with different ingredients are brought out; plate after plate. The guys dig in. Rich and I catch up with our friends we have missed dearly. It is obvious that Motoharu has been practicing his English. He speaks much more and compliments Rich on his Japanese. He eagerly orders drinks for the Housley boys; as Etsuko enjoys ordering the food. They eat like kings, ending the night with famous Tokyo miso ramen.
We are here because of Greg. He wants to see Tokyo. Although Will would rather be back in Hiroshima watching Christmas Vacation, he is making the best of it. Jack is thankful not to be working. Through AirBnB, we are staying in a tiny apartment, in and of itself an adventure. Technology facilitates everyone taking turns making the agenda, finding places to eat. Will guides us to a contemporary, stylish shopping district full of outdoor adventure wear hidden among the tall apartment buildings. Later Jack will lead us to an owl café. Greg is happy to go with the flow, on the look out for anime.
The first night in Tokyo we went to the Hard Rock Café, a must for Rich. It’s evolved into a family tradition since last summer when we went to the one in Fukuoka. They originated in Las Vegas, his hometown, so it feels right. Our first toast is to his cousin Kevin and all the Housleys. As each song plays, father and sons deliberate on its attributes. The song’s volume camouflages their enthusiastic debate. The walls host artifacts of the parent’s coming of age. These provide revelation on the part of the offspring.
The walk home does us all good. We get to see the city and its inhabitants. It helps burn up the liquor. The movement allows conversation partners to move and change like a square dance. He who doesn’t want to talk keeps dosey doeing. By the time we get to our beds on the tenth floor no one is talking. The biggest get the real bed and the rest sleep on the foldables. Just like camping, my dad would say.
The last day is spent seeing important sites like the Emperor’s Castle and the Meiji temple. It feels like Central Park in New York City, another refuge from all the concrete and asphalt. Another family memory of traveling with the boys to NYC in December of ’04 seeps in. Thankful that their grandmother had given them bright colored jackets from LLBean. Rich and I holding on to their hands so tight worried they would be swept away in the crowd. That is not the worry today. They tower over everyone. I don’t worry about their safety. My sons are men now.
We have faced our deepest fear. Earlier in the week the boys missed their flight to Japan in L.A. They are men now. And they are here. After a bath, a Christmas Eve dinner of Korean bbq, we walk down to the Peace Memorial Cathedral for Midnight Mass. As I read the second reading from the book of Titus, I look up to see the three of them:
The grace of God has appeared, saving all
and training us to reject godless ways and worldly desires
and to live temperately, justly, and devoutly in this age,
as we await the blessed hope,
the appearance of the glory of our great God
and savior Jesus Christ,
who gave himself for us to deliver us from all lawlessness
and to cleanse for himself a people as his own,
eager to do what is good.
I almost choke on my words. As I sit down a memory floods in. It is Christmas Eve. I am sitting in the pew at Our Lady of the Lake church in McCall, Idaho. I do not have children yet. I sit behind a family of three 20 something sons and their parents in wonder. And twenty-five years later, here I am. My sons can survive without me.
Our sons have lost forever their boyishness. At night Rich and I console each other in whispers as their snores rattle the walls. The air mattress creaks and squeaks as its inhabitant rolls over. The apartment is stuffed. But we savor it like rubbing our bellies after a Thanksgiving meal.
So the day after Christmas, we are out the door headed downtown. Naoko, who took us to Art Island, is meeting us for lunch. As we walk, the boys clarify where they are, what they know, what they don’t. Like pros they use their ICOCA cards through the gate. They are even recognizing kanji. But as we ride into the city I can see the jet lag on their faces, but there is not whining or grumbling. The jarring realization that my parental job is done washes over me.
Naoko has brought her daughter and two granddaughters. Again my sons’ maturity is evident in their manner and conversation. We sit in a modern tatami room where there is space for your legs. It is a multi course feast including sashimi, nabe, and dessert. Their deep voices fill the entire restaurant. Afterwards we get to soak our feet in the hot springs in the front of the establishment. We end up going downtown, Naoko’s teenage granddaughter leading the way, to a Japanese photo booth on the top floor of a pachinko place. Later they will tell me that the time with the Japanese is their favorite.
Japan continues to be the catalyst for revision. This Christmas we Housleys moved from that structured family feel where mom and dad are the head of the household to a free form family. Who leads depends on what is happening. The individual’s interests and strengths indicate who leads. Living together requires more communication, more time and mindfulness than when we all lived on Bruins Circle. That can feel a little odd. In Japanese fashion we allow this space but don’t draw attention to it. That is family.