A steady, grey rain falls as I come out of Musashi-shinjo station. Uncertain of the way, I ask for directions, but suddenly it all becomes familiar again. Strange, how the years can clip by so quickly and yet leave memories untouched.
On this little shopping road nearly a decade ago, a friend, Mizuho “Missy” Mitsuhori, and I joined the dancing in the local samba carnival. I wouldn’t have done it without my friend’s insistence. If she thought you should do something, well, it was probably something you should do. At worst, it would be fun. Missy always focused on fun — and friends.
I pass her beloved yakitori shop – Torimasa – on the left. The door is slightly open, showing the long narrow counter where you could find her almost daily. This was where she met her second husband, a man patient enough to draw her out from behind her evening sports newspaper and engage her in a conversation.
Missy loved the horses and read up on the races every day. The Emperor’s Cup was her day to herd us out to the Fuchu race course. I hadn’t the slightest interest in horse racing, but going to the races with her and her husband was a splendid way to enjoy a sunny autumn day. She liked other sports, too. She was tall and athletic and sports and her blue-collar view shaped her world. She couldn’t stand to hear me speak my polite classroom Japanese, admonishing me every time I lapsed into “watashi” – “Ore! Omae ha otoko!” If you were a man, you’d better speak like one, so I gave it my best shot. Missy’s lessons in blue-collar Japanese significantly raised my understanding of my karate instructor and the guy who collected cardboard boxes in my neighborhood.
Missy had a biting wit and no time for fools. But if you weren’t a fool, only a little lost, then she’d help you without even the slightest pause to give you an opportunity to thank her. One day she came to my desk and wrote on a sheet of paper, アネキ. “This,” she said, “is what I am to you. I’m your big sister.” Missy was big sister to a lot of people.
I’m now near her apartment. There’s a playground across from it. The ground is muddy and a dozen or so people are huddled under a white tent. I hand the white respect envelope to a former colleagues and then take my place under the tent.
When anybody ever claimed that Japanese were conformist, I always had a winning counter-argument in Missy. She spoke her mind and was an intentionally noisy presence in the IBM Asia Pacific office. I helped her install the theme from the “Ichty and Scratchy Show” on her PC so when she turned it on in the mornings it would play.
It is time now to come up to the altar and make an offering of three pinches of incense. This is always the hardest part, but I’ve done it several times and so try to do it in a way that Missy would like: Nice martial bows and one, two pinches — and that’s as far as I go maintaining restraint. I wobble through the third and step back to look at her photo. It’s an enlargement of her company photo ID. It has been at least 10 years since I have seen it, but I know it. I return to the tent and have a long talk with yet another former IBM secretary, who explains that most people came to the wake the night before.
We get busy with life and we don’t talk to the people who made a difference; who made us better than what we were, and shaped us into what we are now. The years rolled by and the correspondence was too few and now it’s finished.
We come forward one more time to put flowers inside her casket. Then we step back and wait for her time to leave. When the hearse is ready, the music for the start of the horse races blares out. Then the hearse pulls onto the street and the music switches to “The Theme of Inoki,” a samba cheering on the pro wrestler.
Two days later, I muster the courage and read her last post. Have a look now, and you’ll know how my aneki was.