Although I have not seen Tomohiro since I left Japan in 1993, his spirit still resonates in me.
Right now - in this photograph - he is the same age as my son, Hudson.
And, if it seems strange to say, every day my son crawls on top of me jabbering away to communicate whatever it is he communicates, I am reminded within the pit of my stomach just how fleeting youth is.
Tomohiro-kun must be 28-years-old, possibly married with a child of his own. I imagine him a university graduate, a smart, young man, working as either a journalist or perhaps as an English teacher in junior high school - both professions I did.
I'm not actually so naive to believe that I would inspire him to those careers - that I had that much affect on him... but here was a child who had never seen a gaijin - a foreigner - before, and he was not only unafraid of the big, hairy stranger in his midst who understood little of what he said, but he didn't care. I was his friend, and he mine. Pretty much what my own son thinks of me.
I had always been very good around children. Maybe not so much with my own, however, as I can not merely be a friend, but must also be the over-protective father who wants to make sure his son grows up to go to university and become a journalist and an English teacher in Japan.
I have promised Hudson that one day - when we are no longer in debt up to my eyeballs - that I will take him to Japan and show him why I love this country. I can only hope I can track down Tomohiro so the two of them can meet.
In this photo that I took of Tomohiro, you can see in the background that the storm clouds are gathering for a good rain. That's my curse of being the Ame Otoko (Rain Man) in Japan. It's not a job I took lightly. It rained whenever I traveled. A joke, to be sure, but a cruel, wet joke.
Tomohiro has placed a giant cookie over his face. A cookie done up in chocolate that luckily enough matches the dark stripes of his shirt.
The face is that of Anpanman, perhaps the most beloved of all the children's animated programs, having been on the air since October 3, 1988. Here's a Wikipedia link: HERE.
Every time I look at this photo, I smile, and wish I could have this same great time with Tomohiro and my son again and again.
And, for the record, here's Tomohiro and myself in another photo from that day taken by his dad. It's a horrible photo of a skinny Andrew, but that little boy who hung onto me like I was his dad reminds me of my son. I guess I got lucky.