Parents in Japan in Photographs
My parents have visited Japan twice. Once in 2018, some 18 years after I first moved to Japan. And then again this past December. That first trip, despite the pleas of my mom to go to Kyoto (which she still to this day calls, endearingly, “Ki-yōti”), like any know-it-all insufferable son, I took them on a kind of best-of B-sides tour: Kamakura, Kanazawa, Kōya-san, Hiroshima.
If I may say so myself, I think it was a fabulous itinerary. You get a lot of the historical greatness of Japan without a lot of the tourism crush. (We did one quick dinner in Tokyo, with a twilight visit to Tokyo Tower.) Kanazawa is one of my favorite cities in the whole country (but it’s hardly off the beaten path — which is why I don’t recommend it that often; it’s a known quantity). And you get to peek at a place like Kōya-san — fairly inaccessible if you don’t have someone to guide you one-on-one. So I guided! Two nights up in the temples. Creepy cemetery tour (step-dad obsessed with ghosts). Strangely good sandwiches at one of the coffee shops. Great trip.
This second time, I figured they had earned the A-sides tour. So we were scheduled to do Kamakura, Ki-yōti, Nara, Tokyo, and — of course — Morioka (“Miri-oku”). Big A-sides with a spicy outlier. Unfortunately, by the time they had arrived on December 19th, I was pulped. The TBOT book launch had wrecked me (the emotional toll of a book launch cannot be underestimated). So it was all I could do to make sure we were getting the right trains to the right places. Forwarding luggage the whole way, natch.
Thankfully my mom and step-dad are easy — they are cheerful, zero-complainers. They are in love with one another and are each other’s best friend. Which means they are not a burden. But my mom can’t eat (or even try) Japanese food so most of our meals are chicken fingers, chicken wings, or pizza. Italian? Yes. I tricked her into eating eel once by telling her it was chicken. (She liked it.) She has never and will never willfully eat raw fish. Just a parameter you have to work within. Yakitori to the rescue.
Unfortunately, upon their arrival, my arm began to nurture a giant patch of MRSA bacteria. As we flitted between monkey parks and Shigemori Mirei moss gardens, my arm began to swell, pulse, weep. I worried spiders were going to crawl out. When we made it to Tokyo — a week into the tour — my arm was so bad I went to the hospital expecting some antibiotics to pop after meals. Instead, they told me I had to be hospitalized, IV antibiotics stat. I needed the good stuff, and fast, right in the vein. My fever spiked (39C). I was crushed. I wrote up the whole ordeal in more detail over in Roden, but let’s just say it was terrible.
So my parents were forced to attend to themselves in Tokyo for three and a half days. They wandered in tight circles near the hotel, for the first time in their lives exploring a truly “foreign” place on their own — no tour, no guide, no ship to return to. It was their first time using Google Maps. Me: IV dripped, virtually interred, binging science YouTube in a half-conscious state, worried about losing my arm, on the top floor of a hospital. Them: Hard Rock Café. (I kept the seriousness of the infection from them as to not unnecessarily cause worry; what could they do? I already felt so bad about being sick in the middle of their long-awaited trip.) They spent their Tokyo afternoons sipping Chardonnay and eating chicken fingers and cheeseburgers — they were content. Which made my own suffering a little less terrible.
I of course got out of the hospital. And we made it to Morioka for a dinner with the town. I was glad they got to see the kindness up there. That was important to me. And my hospital — to which I had to return daily for checks on the terribleness of my arm — happened to be next to Okura. So my final photo of them on this last trip is their opulent lounging in that iconic lobby. Them: sitting, chillaxing, people watching. Me: off to get my wounds checked
I feel so much distance from where I began in this world to where I am and live now, that my parents coming to visit is a shock to my system. All I can do is photograph. In the moment it’s too strange to process. So I shoot, sometimes slyly, sometimes not, and am able to reflect only years later. Still reflecting. Will be thinking about — I’m sure — chicken fingers, Hard Rock Cafés, Ki-yōti, pulsing arm bacteria, for years to come.