by Andy Williams
Isahaya, Nagasaki, Japan
I moved to Japan from the U.S. five years ago. In many ways, Japan is still a closed country. The town I live in has only a small number of Westerners living in it. It is still rare for a child to see a foreigner, and it is painfully obvious when my presence causes such a stir of stares, giggles, and hidden faces, or cries of “America-jin da” (It’s an American) followed by a “Halou.” I am usually annoyed by the whole thing and wish for a day that I can walk down the road in relative peace.
When I am introduced to a child, he or she is usually shy at first, but then may or may not warm up to me. One daughter of a friend of mine was totally different. Her name is Yoko. When we first met, she instantly grabbed my hand, and without a word she dragged me to the playground, where we ended up spending the rest of the day.
We climbed and ran and just enjoyed laughing at each other for hours. We could communicate fairly well with my limited Japanese. Our conversation wasn’t difficult, since it was mostly things like “Come over here” and “Look at that.” During that time, we were friends, and the thought of our different backgrounds never surfaced. I went home very happy that night.
A few months later, I ran into that family in a video store parking lot. A few of Yoko’s classmates were there, too. As we started to play in front of the store, one of her classmates looked up at me and said “America-jin da.” Yoko looked at her in surprise and replied “Iie, Nihon-jin yo.” (No, he isn’t. He’s Japanese). Even though I know we should accept people for who they are and not what they are, sometimes it is hard to do that. Yoko showed me what true total acceptance is. In the best words she knew, she told me that I was no different than her or anybody else in her world.
It’s amazing how much a five-year-old can teach if we will only listen.
Available in The Best of HeroicStories, Volume 1.