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Ingoshira Park

Not too long ago, I walked into the Ingoshira Park, a quiet walk-in closet away from the buzzing room of Kichijoji in Tokyo, with a Japanese friend.

There, under the ceiling of fawning trees, hid more street performers than I have ever seen in any American city. On the warm Sunday I was there, I didn’t go more than fifty feet before I saw another musician or painter or magician. One tune floated in the air before being consumed by the next song, from the twang of a traditional Biwa to covers of Beatles songs.

We sat on a bench looking out onto the small pond, heavily trafficked in the sun with rowboats and giant, paddling swans, analogous to their famed cousins that live in the Boston Public Garden.

We spoke of our cultural differences: she Japanese, me American. She admired the interaction of Americans, lamenting how many Japanese people, so worried about being respectful, are more likely to ignore you than say something that could be taken as rude. It was for that reason, she told me, that she liked Ingoshira Park so much. With the performers and those selling their goods on the ground, a dialogue was forced between strangers.

I told her how I enjoyed the respect the elderly were granted in Japan. How, I said to her, it appears to me that a huge segment of the American population is told they are worthless and helpless and should be asleep somewhere when not babysitting the grandkids or playing cards. In Tokyo, I mentioned, I was struck by the gray-haired men in suits, and wrinkled faces that work perhaps expendable, but purpose-serving jobs instead of hastening, indeed, sometimes welcoming death, as I find many of their American counterparts doing.

She spoke of the simple freedoms of America and I smiled. I recalled the openness and kindness for fellow Japanese in Japan and she smiled. We sat there for an hour, perhaps, bouncing from Japan to the United States and back, jet-setting from one continent to another by the means of cultural conversation, a swan boat occasionally getting stuck in overhanging branches.

The sun was warm, but inside Ingoshira Park it was cool and friendly and the most private a public park had ever felt. She had had American-style sushi and liked it, which gave me a chance to admit missing all of the American foods I was constantly craving, cheap pizza, un-slimey yogurt and anything my mother ever made.

I told her about my trouble with and inclination towards admiration for Tokyo’s mass transit, which gave her a chance to tell me about the pains of commuting in crowded trains to work. She mentioned that during morning rush, the trains are so full that the system had taken to reserving some train cars for women only, to avoid too much unavoidable contact.

I was involved in no great Japanese event, encountering no Japanese experience. I was sitting in a park with a beautiful girl and talking about what was the most important thing in the world at the very moment. That is nothing I couldn’t or haven’t done in the United States. It is so very important to understand that, though it might be forgettable at home, there in Japan with a Japanese girl, I was experiencing something of note, merit and worth memory. There are no small moments when studying abroad.

Jaa ne,

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