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Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Noboko And Andrew: Recapping The Past

Because it's time, let's take a look back to September  of 1993.

I had completed three years of living and loving Japan as a junior high school  assistant English teacher (AET) on the JET (Japan Exchange & Teaching) Programme in July.

I left my hometown of Ohtawara-shi in Tochigi-ken, a small rural city of about 50,000 people and returned home to Toronto.

I quickly made plans to return to Japan to take care of some unfinished business.

That business was Kikuchi Noboko, the woman I was going to marry.

For free, I can tell you that for the past four years of my life (it includes one year as a second and final year journalism student, various newspaper internships, some growing up, and some to-the-forefront leadership abilities, everything had been coming up roses for me.

Previously, I had been a shy little boy who rarely dated, and thus had never experienced the charms of a woman until Japan. And since then, the 30+ women I had slept with… who had picked me up… made me realize I wasn't such a loser after all.

My mistake at that time was associating sex with women or dating with women as a means of measuring success or failure… but now… 25 years after having first arrived in Japan, I can tell you that I was incredible short-sighted.

It's still a means of measurement for me. It's who I am… but it's no longer the sole means of weighing one's soul.

Living in Japan was also a great way for me to grow up. I was no longer afraid of my own shadow.

In fact, I pitied those who had to live in mine.

Don't mistake that for arrogance.

I was confident. I was still a nice guy who didn't bully anyone. It's just that I knew I was on the verge of success… and that like everything else I had done up to now, I was going to have to put in some effort to make myself succeed.

That's the thing. Prior to those four years (three in Japan and one in college), I was not a very good student after Grade 5. I simply stopped trying in that grade, and managed to become more lazy with every non-succeeding year. In that, I was a success.

But… there comes a time in every man's life, when he has to take a step back and take a good hard, honest look at himself and figure out if he has been honest with himself and the way life has been treating him.

I determined that I had NOT been honest with my effort, and vowed right then and there to always complete every thing I started, and to give it my best effort, so that O could never look back and point the finger at myself for any mis-step.

It's life… there's always going to be mis-steps.

Although I can handle losing (having done my fair share of it previously), I hate to lose.

I lost Ashley… though again… I'm sure I did my best to make the relationship work… but in Japan… that was pretty much it.

Sure there were times I felt down and dark because I wasn't popular amongst the other cool AETs… and while that bothered me that I wasn't always invited to their reindeer games, it was because I was loud, gregarious, funny, articulate and intelligent… and I could dominate any room I chose to dominate. Some people don't care for that. Whatever.

Again… this is non-alcohol-fueled confidence. Okay… you can call my self-confidence ego, if you like, but how can it be when I'm also offering some breaks in my fragile eggshell mind?

I had become Japanese without realizing it: hone and tatemae… my true feelings and desires (hone, 本音), and the behavior and opinions I spew in public (tatemae, 建前)…

But… Noboko… the first time I saw her, I knew I was going to marry her. The first time she saw me, she knew I was some sleaze ball whom she knew she never wanted a single thing to ever do with.

My love haiku to her that I write moments after first being introduced to her at one of my junior high schools where she was to be a new English teacher, could not chip away at her stony heart.

Her (and mine) students realized almost immediately that I was really into her (probably those ridiculous hearts that kept floating up above my head, or the way I couldn't take my eyes off her - especially when she walked ahead of me up the stairs to class… and so 

Weeks later, thanks to the urgings of the kids, we were an item. But in secret.

She did not want it being know that she was in love with the popular gaijin (me), which would mean that she was sleeping around (because that's what gaijimn men expect of their Japanese concubines… I'm being silly here, and while it's true we were sleeping together, the Japanese would have ASSUMED we were… and thus would have judged her harshly, and me as a hero… Noboko really was quite gorgeous in her looks.

Still, the kids found out when we accidentally bumped into some of them one Saturday when he had travelled to another city for a day date… we tried to threaten the kids to be silent because they weren't supposed to be where they were either… but dammit… Noboko was the new pretty English teacher, and Andrew was the popular young gaijin no sensei (foreign teacher)… this was news.

And yet… the kids told other kids, but at no point did any of the adult teachers ever say anything or act funny towards us - which is why I think they never found out.

I did tell my bosses at the Ohtawara Board of Education, however… because these guys were my friends, and I knew if I swore them to secrecy, they would not let me down. And they didn't.

In this case, it was international friendship over Japanese duty… though I can't tell you what that Japanese duty might entail, but I would assume it would Noboko receiving a stern talking to regarding her moral behavior and the gaijin (me).

Our biggest hurdle, however, was her father… who was not pleased that his daughter was dating a foreigner. Not only were the optics bad for him and his superiors regarding possible future job promotion (if your single daughter is dating  gaijin, then her morals must be bad, because we KNOW she must be sleeping with him out of wedlock). It's stupid… pretty much every single Japanese guy was trying to sleep with Noboko before and during our dating, because in the 1990s, Japan enjoyed screwing more than they do in 2015.

I had given Noboko a huge sapphire ring, as a token of my love for her, and said that when she told her father about my intentions, I would buy her a real engagement ring. This one was a pre-engagement ring… a sapphire so no one at work would be suspicious. Diamond? the jig would have been up.

Noboko could not and would not tell her father.

She had previously been engaged to a Japanese guy (I'm unsure if it was arranged or not), but Noboko broke it off weeks before the big day… which I'm sure pissed off her father for the costs and loss of face.

As well… Noboko was now over the age of 27… an age (in 1993) that was considered to be 'old-maid' territory. In fact, I made sure I was back in Japan for her birthday on September 14. Damn Virgoes! I'm a Scorpio... if you Google Scorpio sign and see what looks like a capital M... and then look at the Virgo sign that looks like a Capital M with an extra loop on the right... well... it looks 'interesting' 

Because of Noboko's age and marital status, her father (and mother) were not being viewed as being good parents… at least that was the fear.

Now toss in the gaijin.

Holy crap… life really sucks to be Mister Kikuchi.

Mom… she liked me, and she was a firm supporter of her daughter and I being a couple.

She and Noboko would invite me to the house to have dinner with the family - including dad… and when he found me kissing her in the kitchen (Noboko), I thought all hell was going to break loose… and it did.

But no matter what… despite the big Japanese obstacle of her father in my way… I was going to make Noboko my wife… and, if we had to stay in Japan, I would do so forever just to be with her.

You can tell I'm a pretty intense guy. Like I said before… I don't like losing, so I'm always going to give everything my best effort.

It's now September of  1993… I'm back in Japan.

I've left my family back in Toronto - including my mother… back in March of that year, my father told me to prepare to come home because my mother was very sick… so… leaving my mother… for Noboko… I knew my mother would approve… she had talked with Noboko, seen the photos I sent back, and heard my glowing description of the woman I wanted to marry.

My mother simply told me to go back to Japan and do my best to make it happen.

I'm unsure what my father thought—he's far more private than I or my mother—but considering just three years earlier he had to practically drag my sorry butt to the airport and make sure I got on the airplane to Japan, he must have realized I was pretty serious about my future plans.

One more thing… in the telling of this very, true part of my life, I've just finished a dinner at Noboko's parent's place this past Saturday the 11th, and was my usual stunning awesome in attempting to show that I am THE man to marry his only daughter… and we ate, and drank and I stared in rapt attention as he sang Japanese folk songs, drunk applauding his drunk crooning, and then being all buddy-buddy…

… which if you think about it now, like I am doing, is kind of weird, because he knows I'm doing all sorts of nasty things to his precious little daughter.

I guess it's good to know that neither of us are violent drunks.

On Sunday, Noboko and I went out... and while her father was only curious about when she was seeing me again, nothing else was mentioned about me.

Noboko also confided that her parents do not seem to love one another, and it appears as though she has never been in love before because of that. I guess me traveling half-way across the globe for her was something she felt no one would ever do for her  

Tomorrow… we'll hit the final stretch of Noboko and Andrew in Japan, beginning with Monday, September 13. I'm supposed to leave on the 20th. Time, despite not existing as a man-made concept, is now my enemy. 

Andrew Joseph

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