Tokyo, 1981. I’m crossing the michi in Roppongi, a very trendy area in central Tokyo when a man, crossing in the opposite hōkō suddenly reverses course and stops me as I take a step onto the sidewalk. He throws his arms around me and gives me a big haggu saying, “My Sister!” (I don’t have any brothers at all and certainly not in Tokyo.) I reel back a bit in surprise and meanwhile, he gives me a huge hohoemi and says in very accented English. “Oh, I felt so hōmushikku when I saw you and you look just like my sister!” I’m a little shocked that a stranger has hugged me, but he seems so happy that I try to remember that I am not Japanese and come from a culture where hugging happens. Maybe he does, too?
Okay. I smile back and ask him where he is from as one does in the foreign community in Tokyo in the 1980’s. He says he is here on a mijikai ryokō with a delegation from Palestine. Oh. Awkward. I tell him that I am Jewish and have a sister living in Jerusalem. This doesn’t make him grin any less. In fact, he is smiling even bigger.
I’m curious so I gingerly ask him if aren’t we perhaps actually enemies. I haven’t been paying attention to world events, but Jews and Arabs… aren’t we enemies? He laughs and says, “No, no, not at all. We are of the same Semitic race. You look just like my own sister. I’m so happy to see you.” We chat a bit more. It’s all very friendly.
The next day, to my huge surprise, I read about Arafat’s visit to Tokyo in the newspaper and realize I’ve met a member of Yasser Arafat’s delegation, i.e. a member of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO). True story and not one I’m likely to forget. It shaped me…not just a little bit….
- michi – 道 road, street
- hōkō – 方向 direction
- haggu – ハグ hug
- hohoemi – 微笑み smile
- hōmushikku - ホームシック “homesick”
- mijikai – 短い short
- ryokō – trip, journey