The Castaway Hotel: Book 2

Chapter 37: A Nippon Experience

Besides Carlos’ recent arrival, I had to focus on another matter that was quickly becoming more urgent. In just a couple more weeks it would be spring vacation, which meant I would be leaving on my trip to Japan, with Sammy and Andrew. Therefore, it was time to start thinking about what to pack and how I was going to handle this entire situation. Not only that, but I would have to sit down with Sammy and Andrew to prepare them for this visit as well. I not only had to reassure both boys about how much I loved them, but also make certain they were ready for what might happen, once we were in Japan.

Fortunately, I had ordered all the boys’ passports back in January, in preparation for our summer vacation, which meant Sammy and Andrew would have theirs in plenty of time. The boys didn’t know anything about this, however, as I had arranged to have a friend take their passport photos without the boys learning what they were really for. Instead, I told them I wanted their pictures for my personal records, just in case we needed identification photos of them later. I worked this in conjunction with the sheriff’s departments child safety program, which they ran at my school, so not only did I have those photos, but I also had all the boys’ fingerprinted and kept those cards in my fireproof safe.

Although this program had been held for the younger grades, I brought my high school boys over and had them participate too, so I could have those records, just in case they were ever needed. After explaining my reasons and quelling their objections, they cooperated with my requests. Once all of this was completed, I attached each boy’s photo to the appropriate fingerprint card, for security reasons. Of course, I had my friend print multiple copies of each of their photos, so I had plenty for each purpose.

As the time to leave grew near, I could see Sammy and Andrew beginning to get more and more wrapped up in their emotions. Although they were excited about traveling to Japan and seeing where their father had lived, they were also concerned about their grandparents might try to keep them there. My attorney had assured me this wouldn’t happen, after he research Japanese laws about custodial claims, but I’ve heard of worse horror stories happening in foreign countries. Once you’re on foreign soil, you must abide by the laws of that country and I was still concerned there might be other laws our lawyer might have missed, concerning orphaned children of a Japanese national. After expressing my concerns, my attorney explained he’d also had a Japanese firm check his findings, before assuring me I had nothing to worry about. I prayed he was right.

On the final Friday of classes before spring break, I brought the boys home, and Sammy, Andrew and I went back over our preparations for our trip. We would leave the following morning and Steve was going to drive us to the Pittsburgh Airport. Now we went over our list of things we were taking with us, as I wanted to make certain we would have everything we needed. I didn’t want to forget anything important, since I wasn’t sure if we could find replacement items for such things, once we arrived.

Sally had agreed to stay with the other boys again, until Scott arrived later that day, so I had no worries there. During the evening I said my good-byes to the rest of the boys, as the three of us would be leaving the house before they got up the next day. Each one wished us luck and told us to have a good time, but I could tell from their reserved actions and unusual demeanor that they were worried about Sammy and Andrew’s future with us, too. It was obvious they were trying not to alarm the other pair about their concerns, but they were just as worried as I was that the grandparents would want the boys to stay and live with them in Japan.

Saturday morning, I awoke both boys before daybreak and got them dressed in their traveling attire, before we dragged our luggage down to the foyer. Steve arrived a short time later, so we loaded everything and were on our way to Pittsburgh by 6:30. The two boys sat in the back, rigid and nervous looking, while I sat in the front, next to Steve.

During the lengthy ride, we talked about many things, none of which had to do with this trip, and slowly I saw the boys begin to relax. We arrived at the airport shortly after 10:00, but our flight wasn’t scheduled to leave until 11:30. I took the boys up to the airline counter, checked us in, tagged our luggage and then we grabbed a quick bite to eat with Steve.

While we were eating, I looked in my carry-on case, to make sure I had packed both boys’ personal CD players, the CDs they had selected to take with them, a few of the hand-held games they wanted to play while we traveled and a selection of new batteries, to last throughout the trip. It would be a long flight, the boys’ first plane trip, and we weren’t sure we’d be able to find replacements for the batteries while we were in Japan, so we came prepared.

When our flight was called, I led the boys to the plane and we took our seats. We would fly to Chicago’s O’Hare Airport first and have over an hour layover there, before making our connecting flight to Tokyo. We were scheduled to arrive in Chicago at 12:03 and leave again at 1:20.

Both boys wanted to sit next to me, so I let Sammy have the window seat, I sat next to him, and Andrew sat on my right. I figured that once the seat-belt sign was turned off, Andrew would be in my lap for most of the trip anyway, so it didn’t really make a difference where he sat. However, if he were on my lap, both boys would be able to look out the window. Due to their inexperience with this type of travel, each of them got very nervous just before takeoff and clung tightly to my arms.

It was a smooth lift-off, but my little ones seemed to hold their breath until we were safely in the air. I didn’t realize it before we left, but this flight was basically an up-and-down shuttle. Almost as soon as we reached our optimum level, we started our descent. Both boys listened to their music or played with one of the games we’d brought along, so it wasn’t too bad. The flight passed quickly and before long the announcement was made to prepare for landing. I made sure each of them was buckled into his seat, as the plane began its descent.

I watched the boys closely, as we began our approach for landing. Their eyes were wide and their knuckles white, as they gripped the armrest or my arm. Sammy was looking out the window, so his reaction was more severe than his brother’s. He kept tugging at my shirtsleeve and pointing outside.

“Dad, look!” he urged, somewhat excited. I think he felt that we were going to crash, but he didn’t say it aloud, as he didn’t want to frighten his brother.

“Yes, we are landing, but what you’re seeing is quite normal,” I assured him. “It just gives you a weird feeling, because the plane is traveling so fast and you’re not used to traveling at such speeds. There’s nothing to be concerned about though.”

I think I saw him exhale after my comment, as that seemed to allay his fears a little. By the time the plane’s wheels touched down on the runway, I thought both boys were going to draw blood from my arm. Their tiny fingers were digging through my shirt and into my skin and I was more than thankful their nails had been trimmed. As we taxied up to unload, the color and smiles slowly returned to their faces.

We made our way into the terminal and used the restroom, before grabbing drinks and some ice cream from the snack bar. When we finished our snack, we made our way to our next departure gate. By the time we arrived there, the other passengers were already boarding. We sat in the same order we had on our first flight, since the boys seemed satisfied with that arrangement. As I said before, our departure time was 1:20 and we would arrive in Tokyo 4:05 p.m. their time.

The boys weren’t quite as nervous about this take-off, but they weren’t totally relaxed either. Once we were in the air, however, they were fine. Except for some minor bouts with turbulence, the flight was quite smooth. As I anticipated, Andrew spent most of his time sitting on my lap and just being affectionate. During the early leg of the flight, I would point at different things through the small window and the boys would look out to see what I was showing them. Finally, I left them on their own.

During much of the flight, they sat quietly listening to their music, playing an electronic game or watching the movie that was being shown, although Andrew did most of this while sitting with me. They also took a nap or two during the multi-hour flight. They both thought it was really neat when we ate on the plane, but were too excited to consume very much of the meal.

Some of the other passengers on the plane looked at us funny when the boys would call me ‘Dad’, but seemed to be less critical after watching Andrew contentedly curled up on my lap the whole time. One nice lady stopped by, sat down in Andrew’s seat and chatted with us for a while.

“Your sons are adorable,” she told me, as she waited to gauge my reaction to her comment, “and so well behaved. I haven’t heard hardly a peep out of them during this whole flight.”

“Thank you for saying so,” I replied. “I’m very proud of both of them.”

“And they have such a cute mixture of features,” she added, and I knew what she was hinting at.

“Yes, they’re both half Japanese,” I informed her, but didn’t elaborate beyond that. “I’m taking them to visit their grandparents, who still live in Japan.” She nodded her understanding and left it at that, not pressing for more information.

She did hang around and played around with the boys, while also chatting with them, before going back to her seat. Before she left, she gave both of the boys a stick of gum, to help their ears decompress on such a long flight. I was very proud of them when they thanked her for her kindness, without my prodding.

Andrew was sleeping on my lap when the announcement came on for passengers to return to their seats and prepare for landing. I had to wake him up and buckle him in his seat, but he wanted to hold my hand the whole time. As with the second take-off, the boys weren’t as nervous about this landing as the first one. They gave a little cheer when they felt the wheels hit the runway and some of the other passengers gave them a grin, a thumbs-up sign or flashed them an okay sign in return. The boys were a little shy about being noticed so much, even though they inadvertently brought it upon themselves, but they played along with the other passengers.

The plane was soon parked and we disembarked. From there, we made our way along multiple corridors, as we worked our way toward the baggage claim area. When we got to a point where they allowed non-passengers, I saw a man holding a sign with our name on it. He turned out to be the interpreter I had hired through my travel agent. He helped us retrieve our luggage and showed us to our car. The chauffeur drove us to our hotel and we went in to register. I had reserved two rooms, one for the boys and me and the other for the interpreter. I wanted him close by at all times, in case I had a communication problem.

Once we were settled in, we had the interpreter call the boys’ grandparents and let them know we had arrived safely. We made an appointment to visit them at ten the next morning and then we made ourselves comfortable. I knew we’d all be feeling the effects of jet lag, since it had begun to show on us already. I felt tonight might be difficult for the boys, as we were all adjusting to the time differences, so I planned absolutely no activities. Mr. & Mrs. Yamada knew about this and had agreed, so I ordered dinner through room service and we never left the room.

There wasn’t really much to do, since nearly everything was in Japanese, so I was glad I threw a couple of magazines and a book in my suitcase when I packed. The boys had their music and the electronic games, so I didn’t worry about them. I was reading one of the magazines, when Sammy came over and asked to sit with me. I obliged him, because he hadn’t had as much time alone with me on the trip. Even though Andrew had seemed to be fused to my lap during the flight, Sammy was still willing to share me, when Andrew asked to join us. I thought that was sweet.

Before it got too late, I bathed the boys and got them ready for bed. They wanted to run around naked for a while and I saw no harm in it, so I let them. I gave them another half hour or so before I talked them into bed. I went at the same time, not having had the advantage of napping on the plane like they had. We all slept soundly until the alarm went off.

Even though it seemed to come too quickly, we got ready and met with the boys’ grandparents at their house. While we were there, I tried to stay in the background and give them time alone. I had only come on this trip to keep the boys safe and to make certain I was there if they needed me. Otherwise, this was to be the time when the two generations got to know each other even better. I did not interfere as the two groups spoke to each other through the interpreter. The boys knew only a very few words in Japanese and therefore couldn’t really speak the language.

From what I could understand, the grandparents were trying to tell the boys about their heritage and a little bit about their father’s life as a boy. They talked about what their father was like from birth until he left for the States to go to college. They tried to explain the reason for the estrangement between them, but the boys simply could not understand how parents could disown their own son and act as if he were dead. The grandmother tried to explain the Japanese traditions of respecting one’s elders and honoring the wishes of the parents, but the participants in this discussion were from vastly different worlds and could not appreciate what the other was trying to say on this topic. They continued their discussion until well past noon, when I suggested we take a break and go out for some food. Finally, I got everyone to agree.

The grandfather suggested a restaurant not too far away, which served food in the Tempura style. This meant the food we ate had been deep fried, after being dipped in a batter. The grandfather placed the order for us, as none of the rest of us, except his wife, were sure what the items on the menu were. It was good tasting, although I never really knew exactly what it was I was eating. The boys seemed to enjoy it too and we soon settled the bill and left.

After leaving the restaurant, the grandmother suggested we take a Sumida River Cruise, so the boys could see what some of Tokyo looked like. From the boat we saw the Sumo arena, the Tokyo-to City Museum, the Tsukiji Fish Market, the Rainbow Bridge (that spanned Tokyo Bay) and we also passed under more than a dozen other bridges along the way. I think we all found the ride was relaxing, as well as quite lovely.

The cruise had taken around forty minutes to complete and we went from there to the Fukugawa Edo Museum. This museum contained a recreation of a nineteenth century Japanese neighborhood, done to extremely accurate detail. The museum also provided a sound and visual mix that added an authentic look and feel to this neighborhood. If this didn’t give the boys some indication about their father’s heritage, then nothing would. I was very impressed by the whole visit.

As we were leaving, Andrew asked a question through the interpreter. “Grandfather, was that how it was like here when you were little?”

Once the interpret explained to the grandparents what Andrew had said, I thought I saw his grandmother stifle a chuckle, as the grandfather’s eyes nearly bulged from their sockets. “Oh, no, little one,” his grandfather told him through the interpreter, “that was even before the time of my grandfather.” He now seemed to also have a twinkle in his eyes, after he said that.

Once we finished this segment of our time together, we parted company for the day and made arrangements to meet at the same time tomorrow. The boys, the interpreter and myself went back to the hotel to freshen up, before deciding where to go for dinner. After discussing this with the interpreter, we decided on a Teppanyaki style Japanese restaurant, or a Japanese steakhouse. Although this wasn’t exactly what I was used to, it was still very good and we enjoyed ourselves immensely.

While dining, the interpreter also advised me of a Japanese tradition, as we were both drinking beer with our meal. He explained that while socializing, you never refill your own drink and you never let your companion’s glass become completely empty. It sounded intriguing, so I agreed to abide by this tradition. Now, besides having to watch how much I was imbibing, I had to watch the interpreter’s glass, to make sure I kept him supplied with beer. We all managed to have a good time, without over indulging.

Once we’d finished eating and were back in the room, both Sammy and Andrew became very affectionate. First, they both wanted to sit on my lap, and then they started kissing and hugging me. It was then that they gave me a hint as to what this was all about.

“We’re glad you would never disown us or pretend we were dead,” Sammy announced, after we’d been together for a while. “How could our grandparents do that to our father?”

“Boys, I’m not sure I can answer that question,” I told them, “because our cultures have different ways of looking at things. Over here, in Japan, at least when your father was young, children who disobeyed their parents wishes might be treated that way. That’s because the Japanese place a very high value on honoring their elders.”

“We could understand it if they were mad at him and maybe didn’t speak to him for a while,” Sammy continued, “but how could they pretend he was dead and never have anything more to do with him?”

“That’s why they didn’t know about me and Sammy,” Andrew added. “That’s why I don’t want to live here. They might get mad at us too.”

Although I tried to explain it again, as best I could, the boys still couldn’t understand why their grandparents told their friends and relatives that their son had died and never spoke of him again. No matter how hard I tried to explain their grandparents’ reasons to them, it was just beyond their grasp. However, both boys kept continually thanking me for not being like that.

Once again, I gave them their bath and let them enjoy their time naked. They entertained each other for a while after that, competing on their games or discussing their music, but eventually they let me know they were ready to go to sleep. I agreed and joined them, so soon we were all cuddled together on the bed. They seemed to want to be in contact with me and I always loved being with them, so we were all content.

At one point during the evening, I got up to use the toilet and Andrew must have woken up and discovered I was gone. He got scared and began to cry. When I came back out, I heard him sobbing and asked him what was wrong.

“I just got scared when I couldn’t find you, Daddy” he told me.

“I just went to the toilet, but I’m back now,” I explained, “so everything is okay.” Although my words had done some of the job, Andrew wasn’t completely comforted unless he was touching me and knew for certain I was there. After I kissed him good night again, he drifted back to sleep.