An Unusual Friend

One day when I was browsing in a honya-san, a young man struck up a conversation with me. It appeared he was new to Kyoto and started asking me for recommendations. Seriously? He was Japanese and why on earth would he ask me, an obvious foreigner?! I guess he figured I must speak Japanese since I was browsing books written in Japanese.He seemed harmless, teinei and earnest. And a friendship began.

Kenji was not looking for English practice, unlike many Japanese who approached me. He didn’t speak a word of eigo and wasn’t interested. He was a member of the Jieitai stationed near Kyoto. He came from a small town and was honestly overwhelmed. We started to meet on nichiyōbi and indeed I ended up guiding him around Kyoto.

I will never forget taking him to the grounds of Gosho. He was awestruck by being somewhere related to the Emperor. This was the 1970s and most young people I knew were hippie types and had no interest in the Emperor. But Kenji practically fell to the ground and bowed. It turned out to be the most meaningful place I ever took him. Seeing these grounds through his eyes did make it seem more sacred.

Kyoto Imperial Palace

He sometimes brought me small gifts, the most impressive being my very first digital watch… because he’d noticed I didn’t wear one. It was a Seiko of course.

Very similar to the watch he gave me, though mine had a blue band.

Eventually he was transferred elsewhere and we lost touch. But I’ve always treasured the sightseeing we did together each Sunday.

A photo he kindly took of me when we visited Ota Shrine to see the irises in bloom. I wish I had a photo of him, but if I did it is long gone.
  • honya-san – 本屋さん bookstore
  • teinei – 丁寧 polite
  • eigo – 英語 English
  • Jieitai – 自衛隊 Japanese self-defense force, also known as the JSDF. This is a post WW2 military only for the purpose of self-defense. You should google it if you’re interested.
  • nichiyōbi – 日曜日 Sunday

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