We first met in Spring, 2003. I was riding my mamachari around Urawa City, mainly exploring and looking for some trouble to get into, when I rode passed this hostess bar. I can’t remember the name, but standing in front were 3 girls, all kawaii to the fullest. At least I thought so then. Two of them had that Harajuku gya-ru look: tanned, sparkly, streaked hair and heavy makeup, and what not. The third one was a beauty minus the adornments and transfiguring. She was dressed in a Yukata, a light summer kimono, and her hair was pinned up revealing her lovely neck and cheeks. Not the one of them looked over 20.
As I passed, I gave them a little smile of acknowledgment, and they being business girls, gave me open, welcoming yet perfunctory cheese. I was half a block away when I heard their voices call after me. I almost crashed in my haste to acknowledge them. I turned and cruised back trying to look less eager than I felt. I had been in Japan about two months by then, and suffice it to say I was open to Japanese girls. Wide Open! So open, that I hadn’t even noticed that I was being hailed in English! Fairly good English at that. The kind of English acquired living abroad for a short time or through regular association with gai-jin.
It was the un-tanned girl that was doing the talking. I rolled beside her and she began to pitch the business. “Only 5000 yen and you can sit and drink with me!” I told her straight out she must be mad. Back in the states, we rarely pay that much without a guaranteed happy ending. She laughed out loud. “This is not America!” The banter continued, she saying that a roll in the hay, with another girl of course, not her, would cost about $5000 US, and it was my turn to laugh out loud. The ice was broken between us, and after we’d established that I was not a potential client and she was not going to be serving me for cash, the conversation shifted to something typical of what would take place between two people who are attracted to one another. She’d initially given me her stage name “Reira” but after the biz talk had ceased, she confided her name was Aiko.
“I’m a university student, studying psychology,” she said.
I wasn’t surprised, I told her. Many college students, even in the US, do similar jobs to make ends meet. “Maximizing your assets” I said and she laughed. It was so refreshing to have someone Japanese laugh at my jokes…usually they would giggle at how entertaining and unusual the foreigners were. But humor was totally missed; a cultural and language gap that for many would never be filled. But. Aiko was right there in the gap with me. Raking up cool points. We talked until it became clear to the others standing around, including her Yakuza boss and what-not, that it wasn’t business. Before I left we exchanged text message addresses and promises to keep in touch. I rode away with such a high that I sang all the home.
Now, at the time, I was seeing this girl, Rico. She too could speak English a bit, but, to put it mildly, was too bland for me. I’d met her my first night in Japan- at a club in Roppongi, no less. We connected and a couple of days later we fornicated and for my first taste of true Asian loving, it was incredible…mentally anyway. Otherwise, it wasn’t much different than the tastes of home. After that mental charge wore off, which took all of a month, my eyes were roving. The week after I met Aiko, I broke it off with Rico.
I met up with Aiko again that week and we went for a stroll around my neighborhood. A tree-lined path I hadn’t really explored well, lead to a park with a lake, surrounded by a path. We walked along it, in the darkness, talking. She talked about her hobby, singing. A jazz singer, at that. I was and still am a great connoisseur of jazz so we had a lot to talk about. I told about the history of jazz. She knew bits and pieces and I knew a bit more than she did. She listened with eyes that devoured my words. We also shared admiration for Chomsky and discussed some of his ideas…and movies! We both loved film. She knew director names and filmographies and what not and we could talk endlessly about them. It was well after 11pm by then, and she’d ought to have been headed home, for the last train to her home was around midnight, but she didn’t stop. Neither of us wanted to. We took a seat and sat hand-in-hand, and talked all night. I was annoyed by the bugs and she was afraid of the bats, and we were both taken aback by sounds and motion seemingly coming out of the darker places in the park, but we didn’t vacate until sunrise.
A couple of weeks later I convinced her to be my girlfriend. I didn’t know it then, but girlfriend/boyfriend selection is a bit more complicated in Japan than in the US. The thought process is very different. For me, it was just assurance that we would be having sex soon and that I would have the companionship of the most interesting person I’d met since I’d been in Japan. But, for her, well…it was absolutely crucial, for the boyfriend title is taken very, very seriously. Maybe it’s the same in the US and all these years I just hadn’t noticed, because I never took it too seriously. In my young days, it was just about sex for me. If I asked you to be my girl, it meant I wanted to fuck you. And, if we were having sex on a regular basis, without our status having been discussed, then we were just seeing each other, but I might let you tell others I’m your man and on occasion I might tell others you were my girl…of sorts. But, if I made it official, that is, actually saying the words “be my girl” it meant that I was seriously considering fucking you and only you…
Aiko and I hadn’t had sex yet when I sprung the question on her. And she resisted, put up quite a fight as I recall. I told her that I wanted to have fun, and isn’t that what being bf & gf is all about? But, though Aiko was a college student, she was 24 years old already, and in Japan, that’s approaching old maid status, so, many things had to be considered before saying yes. And she considered them all. I know! Maybe not aloud (in English anyway) but she had the kind of intelligence and mental engine that molded her face into a mask of beautiful brilliance. I hadn’t known it then, but that was when I fell in love with her. The time period between the walk in the park and her simply saying “yes” to me. I mean, she used language, primary language, which is the only way we could communicate initially, but my mind, my native dictionary, gave her words the depth I’m certain they would have had in her native tongue.
After she said Yes, that’s when things started getting rocky. She quit her hostess job and got a regular job and I got complacent. Unaccustomed to the amount of attention I was getting from women, I became something of a predator. I had girls lined up. At the rather late age of 38, I was finally sowing my oats the way I never had in America. I was regressing into an almost adolescent mindset of conquest nearly without remorse. But, Aiko, poor Aiko, was always home to me. We fought and argued as couples do, about “where were you” and “your friends are more important than me” and “Are you seeing another girl,” etc…And also about some new (to me) issues that I believe (but I could be wrong, and probably am) resulted from our totally different cultures like, “you are so rude” and “why don’t you keep your promises” and “you don’t have any respect for me or my culture,” etc…
But, otherwise, we were very good together. We had so much in common. We both wanted to travel and study. Her particular branch of psychology explored the psychological impact of cultural differences. In other words, she was fascinated, and borderline obsessed with her people’s fixation with Western Culture. She was totally disgusted by her brethren inability to see the individuality of foreigners, their tendency to overlook the gaijin’s glaring issues in favor of their unusualness in what has to be one of the most homogeneous cultures remaining in existence. She called these people “Gaijin Freaks” and she had decided to make a documentary exploring this national phenomenon. But, before she could do that, she had to explore it on a personal basis, I believe. I think that’s where I came in. Also, I told her I was writing a book about my experiences in Tokyo, comparing and contrasting the differences in culture with that of NY. She loved the idea and we decided to work together to accomplish each others goals. We bonded in this way, and so our discussions on the matter, which were often heated, were also enlightening and educational for both of us.
We went on like this for many months, seeing each other a couple of times a week, talking, fighting, loving, and learning from each other. She helped me with my Japanese and I helped her, when requested, with her English. However, most often my assistance was not sought directly. She resisted for some reason I always had difficulty putting a finger on. Perhaps it had something to do with the stigma that girls in Japan live under…that they fuck with foreign guys in order to get free English lessons, or for their dick-size, or for some kind of status symbol (English ability and capacity to interact with foreigners being a sign of a “globalized” mentality or merely cool) or just a kind of Jungle fever, being that most foreign cultural ideas are considered at best unusual and at worst bizarre and uncivilized by most Japanese. But, in any event, she resisted.
At the same time, I was still notching my belt, so to speak. I’m not exactly proud of my behavior, but I had some good times, and I was definitely in that state of mind from the time of my arrival here. Having a good time was high on my priority list. Aiko was a still a university student, working part time, and living with her parents, so I couldn’t see her whenever I wanted to. I guess I could’ve seen her more than I did, but I used her restraints to rationalize my exploits.
One day I told her, out of the blue, that I needed a break. That I had some serious concerns about our relationship, which I did, but not enough to refuse to see her the way I did. She didn’t know it at the time but it wasn’t because of her but because I had a fever blister on my mouth and I was ashamed to see her or even go to work. I don’t know why I get that way about cold sores. There shouldn’t be any shame but maybe it’s because of it’s placement on the lip, in the most conspicuous and intimate of places, making it the bane of my existence on this planet. My vanity, or my self-consciousness, projected into the minds of others…and oh how I am concerned with what other people think of me! Once or twice a year, an outbreak occurs, and that is the source of my anguish. Depending on the size of the blister, I can either weather it or cower in my house for days, avoiding contact with all humans I know, whose judgment I worry about. I hate the power it has over me, the fear it induces in me, but I’ve allowed it to happen for over 20 years now. How could I expose this to Aiko, I wondered. I wasn’t prepared to do that, yet. I needed more time, I said to myself, so I went into hiding. I guess I could’ve come up with a better excuse than I need some time to think about our relationship, but I get so emotionally unwound when an outbreak occurs that I just lose it and the feelings of others take a backseat to my own. She simply couldn’t make sense of this sudden flip.
A week later my lip had healed up and I tried to resume relations with Aiko, but, as I should’ve expected, my behavior had changed her outlook on our relationship as well. She was very much in love with me, I knew, but now she was leerier. She became much more independent. Hanging out with her friends, looking for work. She started teaching private lessons, too. She wanted to do research to better understand foreigners, I guess, and make some extra money, so she started teaching Japanese. She placed an ad on a website frequented by ex-pats and the responses came in. One student, in particular, she began to have unusual conversations with. At the time, I thought she was losing her goddamn mind, holding lengthy, giggly conversations, in my house with this guy. I didn’t fully realize she was crying out for attention by making me jealous. I’m so blind to shit like that some times. I was utterly clueless. Meanwhile, I was beginning to believe that I couldn’t possibly love her if I was capable of doing the things I did on the side. How can you see other women if you are in love? I wasn’t raised that way. The culture I was reared in certainly didn’t encourage that kind of behavior.
So, I broke up with her in my typically cruel fashion, the combination of jealousy and guilt propelling me, using words like “I can’t stop you from fucking anybody. All I can do is trust that you don’t.” At the time, I didn’t think these words were particularly harsh, but she found them to be devastatingly indicative of my lack of emotional investment in our relationship. And, with a thud, we broke up. I took on another girlfriend, a girl that I had been cheating on Aiko with, one who’d shown promise as far as a future together was concerned…We began to see each other more regularly…I proceeded to try to replace Aiko with her, transfer my feelings for Aiko to this new entity. In my mind, at the time, Japanese women had become that transitive. They basically behaved the same, thought the same, felt the same, looked the same, fucked the same…I thought it didn’t matter. In other words, I was slowly dehumanizing them, again, in my efforts to rationalize my exploits. And, it worked…for about 4 weeks. During which I began to feel, see, taste, hear, and smell the difference between this other girl and Aiko. Between ALL other girls and Aiko.
Meanwhile, Aiko had taken up with some other guy, too, (the same student she had been all giggly with on the phone) and I would learn later, was experiencing something akin to what I had. I began to communicate with her again. I wanted to be friends, I told her. What I really wanted was to feel her energy, her vitality, her gentleness and kindness, and anger, and fury, again. She was unique! So, we became friends, of sorts. We talked, and argued, especially when she talked about how happy she was with her new beau. I was jealous, I tried to subtly undermine their relationship, then soon progressing to not so subtle attempts. In my heart I wanted to stalk, to prey, to take what I believed to be mine! But, Aiko, stubborn as she was, resisted, with a calmness, a nonchalantness, that only fanned my anger. Eventually, I gave up, at least with the aggressive stuff. And, we really became friends. I told her “feel free to talk to me about anything, even him.” And, she did, to a certain extent. I became calm, resolute. I figured, it’s all for the best. I will probably fuck it up if we were to ever get back together anyway, I told myself.
Not two days after I came to this resolution did Aiko call me to say she missed me and that she did not feel about her boyfriend the way she felt about me, and indicated, for the first time, that she wanted to re-conciliate. I was walking back from the 7-11 when I got the call. I was half-way home, a bagful of junk food, ready to couch potato the night away, when I received her call. I stopped there in the street and we talked. I fell in love with her again that night. or maybe it just deepened a bit.
But, still, it was not love like I had known before. Maybe love is different with every person, every relationship. Or, maybe I have some serious emotional issues that make me incapable or hard-pressed to feel and behave the way I’ve been taught that you’re supposed to when you’re in love. I really don’t have the answers. All I know is that night I felt more satisfied with myself than I had in a long time. Maybe it was as simple as she had chosen me over him. Simply a victory over an adversary. Victory feels good doesn’t it? I felt great! I was perfect…I contained my glee, I didn’t beat my chest, although I felt like it, I did a little end-zone dance in my heart and mind, while I said words like “I’m glad you feel like you can come to me when you’re unhappy…that’s all I wanted.”
A couple of weeks of negotiation later, we were back together, with a renewed resolve to make it work. I cut down considerably with my philandering and focused more on studying and making money. And we had some good times. It had been over a year since we’d met. Our routines were basic but very nice. On Saturdays, she’d meet me at Starbucks and we’d have some coffee and talk about various things, or we’d help each other with language stuff. Or, we’d go to an izakaya and have dinner, and smoke and joke, or fight and argue, but we were together. Then, we’d go to my house and make love and talk until it was time for her to go home. Sometimes she’d stay, but most often that would cause problems at home. Arguments and fights with her parents…which she didn’t want to get into. Sometimes we’d go to the movies, or to a restaurant in Ebisu or Shinjuku or Shibuya or Omiya. She loved good food and coffee as much as I did.
I used to give her coupons when I fucked up. A coupon which entitled the bearer to something like: For one week, I will or will not do something she liked or disliked, and she loved it! And I’d always keep the promise, conspicuously. She loved promises to be kept. She was a very simple girl on many levels. Just that she was involved with a much simpler man, me. I could never be like her father…not entirely. He was a descendant of samurai, and had what she called the Bushido spirit, which I think she had, too. My spirit is derived from my mother, which is more of a motherly, nurturing, emotional spirit. But, somehow, she was able to see and embrace the best in me. When we fought, it was her fire, her stubbornness, her pride, that borne her. She was not passive, not weak, not angelic or baby doll like, and yet she was soft, and pliable, and sweet and tender and delicate.
In the summer of 2004 she had asked me to feel something growing under her skin. It was a tumor. She went to the hospital and they tried to remove it but could only remove part of it. She spent a couple days in there and all of her friends came to see her. She was a little depressed about being in the hospital, and I spent as much time as I could with her. She had to go back and forth to the hospital throughout the summer and she’d hated it, while the doctors tried to ascertain what was causing the tumor, and whether it was malignant or not. They never did find out.
Summer 2005, a new tumor came, in her back, followed soon by a third in her leg. But, she did not want to spend another summer in the hospital, so she decided to spend it with her friends and with me. But once the summer was over, she could no longer put it off. There was pain. She called them her children, like little fetuses springing up all over body. By winter, I had lost count. 10 or 15 tumors…she had to be hospitalized repeatedly. Test after test neither confirmed nor denied their malignancy. But the doctors treated them like malignancies and gave her anti-cancer drugs and pain medication…
February 27th 2006 Aiko passed away from complications due to these malignancies.
I loved her very much and I still miss her. She was Japan to me.