Hachigatsu is always a poignant month for me when it comes to Japan. Both my first and second trips began in August.
That first trip was August, 1976. I don’t remember what day it was, but it was with the Associated Kyoto Program (AKP). As a group, we traveled from New York City to Tokyo—with a surreal layover in Anchorage—and then missed a connecting flight to Osaka and spent the night in a classy Tokyo hoteru, possibly courtesy of the airline? I was the odd loner from a daigaku that was not a member school of the consortium that ran the program, but my professor had led the program a couple of years previous to my year so I was permitted to join. The other students knew each other since there were five or so of them from each school. I did know two of them from my summer at the Middlebury Language School. That wasn’t nothing, thankfully.
My second trip, I made alone. It felt like a do-over because I’d ended up dropping out of the AKP program due to…well, I’m just not going to tell. But I went home to Kansas in April instead of June. And I was frustrated that I hadn’t done Kyoto very well. So after sotsugyō I worked hard to save okane and flew off on my own on August 14.
Keep in mind, this was 1978. No internet, not much information. Because if I’d known, I would have realized how baka it was to fly into Japan during Obon when everyone and his brother would be traveling. Sure enough, I landed in a VERY crowded Haneda Airport. What the heck? I had thought I would just be able to saunter over to a counter and get a kippū to Osaka. The lines were very long, though. It was not looking good.
Suddenly a middle-aged otoko approached me. He’d seen me eyeing the line for Osaka. He asked me if I needed a ticket. I said that I did. He said that he’d take care of it and he somehow got us on standby. That was nice. It was still looking dim, though.
But miraculously, some hours later, both of our numbers were called and we were able to get on the hikōki. I’m not sure why this was, but neither of us had gone through customs yet. So when we arrived in Osaka and before we went through customs, my new “friend” had a request. He himself was coming from Taiwan, he said, and he said he’d bought too many cigarettes and would I mind holding them and taking them through customs for him.
Naive as I was, alarm bells went off! What was going on here and was I going to be smuggling? But he’d been so shinsetsu. Readers, I could not say no. (I am and always will be a total wimp.)
So, I agreed. And felt like a nervous wreck as I went through customs. What was really in that bag?
After we got through customs, I found my “friend” and said, “Here you go. There was no problem.” (I was probably still quivering.)
He laughed and said, “Oh, you can just keep them. I really do have enough of them.”
So… what was that all about? I will never know. But it was a stupid risk to take and I wouldn’t recommend that anyone do what I did. But maybe, just maybe, he really was just a helpful guy!
- Hachigatsu – 8月 August
- hoteru – ホテル hotel
- daigaku – 大学 university or college
- sotsugyō – 卒業 graduation. Note that in Japan entrance ceremonies are a bigger thing than graduations. That is, it is harder to get in than to get out!
- okane – お金 money
- baka – バカ stupid or stupidity. This is the word that my five year old son taught to his kindergarten classmates in New Jersey so that they could understand Japanese. He refused to learn English for awhile and had a language crusade going on. American mothers would come up to me and ask, “Oh, is baka a word in Japanese?” What does it mean?”
- Obon – お盆 an important holiday in July or August (depending on the region) where ancestors are honored… and everyone takes a vacation back to their hometowns or Hawaii etc. Google it.
- kippū – 切符 ticket
- otoko – 男 man
- hikōki – 飛行機 airplane
- shinsetsu – 親切 kind