Tokyo meets the International Superhero
Written in November 2005: Age 16
My father and I embarked on the journey together, our goal being to attend the wedding of my uncle to a woman of considerable youth in comparison to his gray hair. Even though my father and I departed and arrived together our paths in Japan would wind separate but similar paths. My father and I had grown up in entirely separate cultures and we were both convinced that we were nothing alike. Sazi Temel, my father, was and still is the pristine model for the semi-conservative discipline-loving Turkish men hinted with a spice we call, grumpiness. Whereas I, his son, am infamous for having no verbal filter and being overbearingly social. It may appear at first glance that we are polar opposites, but when we were tossed into a foreign culture the similarities shined brighter.
We were both excited, or at least I hoped he was. It was a dream come true for me to actually go to Japan. The moment we landed, I wanted to see and feel everything. I could barely sleep the first night. The next morning I took pictures of everything and stared out the windows in wonder at the small cars and smartly dressed people in front of me.
The first days went by quickly and smoothly. I was still in shock to actually be there. By the fifth day my father grew tired of roaming around. He began using his computer for entertainment. This entirely blew my mind, we had traveled all the way to Japan and he wasn’t enjoying every single moment of it. This, of course, would be the bane of our vacation. We decided, after an argument, that to enjoy Japan the way we both wished, we had to separate. It was in our own personal adventures that Japan truly showed us how similar we never thought we were.
The young people of Japan are famous for having an amazingly bright pop culture scene of music, dancing, and just being different. It was this I that wanted to see the most. One night while my father was at a bar with my uncle, I ventured off alone to the local train station. At night young adults and teenagers congregate at train stations, which usually have food courts and arcades and never closed, to hang out. I introduced myself to two guitar players and after a few minutes, we were all jamming together to Pearl Jam and John Lennon. It was so elated to actually get the chance to play alongside two Japanese street-performers.
After a picture or two and a few goodbyes, I wondered over to a group of teenage girls who were hip-hop dancing in organized patterns. They danced for no money just entertainment, I attempted to dance and converse with them, but no talent and a phrase book can only get you so far. After taking pictures together, I departed back for the hotel. I was so ecstatic to have been given the chance to meet teenagers and to get along so well with them. It was set I was in love with Japan.
That same night my father was attending the after party for the wedding and was spending quality time with my uncle and the bride’s guests. After returning around 1:30 A.M. craving cheeseburgers, he reported to me that the Japanese rival only the Irish in drinking. He also told me, but only after we had left Japan, that he had to carry one of the bride’s cousins home because the man was so drunk and that the man urinated on someone’s house while my father held him up him and together they fled the scene.
This broke my father’s stigma that the Japanese we reserved. This also broke the image I had had of who my father was. My father would rarely drink in America and he would never be caught dead helping a man to urinate on a house. This story wiped my old perceptions almost entirely away – I was almost proud of him for doing a little living. For he had always been my father-knows-best commander before then.
The next morning my father and I walked around the fanciest part of Tokyo, an area called Ginza. We ambled around well he gave me his critique of why Tokyo’s fashion district far surpassed New York’s. He and I seemed to be getting along well. I guess the epiphanies from the night before had lightened our moods. All was going fine until my father saw a Starbucks. He left me immediately and bolted into the building, rooted himself into a chair and ordered one latte for every day he had not had one. This was a mixed blessing for it gave me the freedom I desired and it gave him the caffeine he so sorely missed.
I took my freedom with stride I went to the Yamaha music CD store. The promotional posters for many famous artists all had Polaroid photos of the actual artist visiting the store just loosely taped on the wall. This shocked me! in America these things would have been stolen immediately. I concluded that Japan had an honor system that was so ingrained in the Japanese mindset that actual photos of famous artists could be displayed and a petty thief wouldn’t take it. My father also reported that not a single bike in Japan had a lock. He was impressed and had come to the same conclusion I had.
Upon returning, my father, latte in hand, recanted his observation of a Japanese cell phone’s multiple uses. He told me he had seen a Starbucks employee change the channel of the TV with her cell phone. We would later learn that in Japan you could also use their cell phones as a translator, camera, and even a way of paying for train tickets and vending machines. After his story, he went on to say, “ I like Japan”. If you knew him then you’d know this was high praise.
Later that night my father and uncle spent the entire night arguing. They used our precious travel time to fight, to make matters worse I couldn’t even join in their combat because their argument was in Turkish. So their selfish argument continued and it gave me again the freedom I so enjoyed. I had asked my aunt to write a few simple phrases on a sheet of paper for me. In all honesty, they were really just a pick-up line that read “ think you’re cute, but I don’t speak any Japanese”.
So I went on my merry way to try it out. I came across two girls playing guitar in a train station. After listening to them play, I attempted to converse. To my surprise, it went well and so did the paper lines. Alas, they were shocked to learn I was only fifteen at the time due to my height. They thought I was in my twenties. So the news of our age gap ended our promising encounter. We ended our conversation by taking pictures together and more music. On my walk back to the Starbucks, where I knew the faithful fighters were still at it, I was approached by a hideous western man who followed me and tried to convince me to buy a prostitute. His ugly sweaty face horrified me as he walked behind me saying, ”you can pick anyone you want”.
Upon rendezvousing with my uncle and father, latte in hand, the man made the mistake of turning to them to ask, “ I have six to choose from”. My uncle, just married, was especially insulted and shouted at the man. It was that confrontation with the man when I knew I would never buy a prostitute.
That same night Sazi had met a man that was Japanese and almost of mirror education. He really enjoyed talking with the man, but that he did not take the man’s contact information. My father was upset he messed the information of his now lost would-be friend. Sazi would go on to regret the time he spent on his computer.
Our last day in Japan finally put the pieces together. The morning was spent with the simple exploration of a temple, but as night fell the finale to our trip began. Sazi and I were now outside Shibuya train station in Tokyo – a famous hotspot for nightlife. Sazi and I were sitting on a park bench deciding where to go next when a drunk man in a stupid bandana began harassing the girl next to us. My father’s response showed a side I had never seen of him the “International Superhero” side. He turned to me and told me his plan. We would ask the girl to take a picture with me and then I would tell her to sit next to Sazi to get her away from the drunk.
Of course, our plan backfired. Now I was sitting next to the drunk who started to shout nationalist slogans at me for being a foreigner. My father confronted the man and told him he would call the police – as if Sazi really knew enough Japanese to dial 911. The man pretended to apologize by shacking my father’s hand which is only a western gesture, an implied mockery. To add injury to insult, while shaking hands the man tried to squeeze Sazi’s fingers. withdrawing with a sharp pain my father kinda pushed the man away and all three of us walked away rather quickly fearing recoil from the drunk.
The girl turned out to be a 17-year-old pop singer who was not in school because she was working on her album. She and I left my father at his recharging station, Starbucks, and went to another café and then walked around Tokyo for a bit singing Beatles songs. The Japanese word for what we did after that is “ki-su” so you can get the picture. P.S. I did not use the sheet of paper.
In Japan, I had seen sides of my father I never knew existed. I never knew my father could carry drunks home, repel pimps, or ward off drunks. For my entire life before that my father had been a distant stern figure of discipline. Now I saw a human-side that was balancing having fun, traveling, and looking out for others. I saw how we were similar.
We both critiqued the same oddities in culture and we were both reached out to the people around us, and we both argued a lot! We had both seen a world so different from our own and learned so much about each other – Sazi is not emotionally aware enough to pick up on any of these changes. Maybe not always together, but we both had fun.
In our final critique together we concluded that when two people are thrown into a world of difference, they learn a lot about each other.