Tokyo Drift

This month my son Max entered his senior year at Berklee College of Music in Boston where he majors in Jazz Composition. In August, Max proposed the idea of a ten day solo journey to Japan.

     “I’ve always wanted to live and work in Japan when I graduate next year. I want to see if I like it before I accept any job offers,” he said.

     I loved how he was already anticipating job offers rolling in. Max is very serious about his career in music. He’s been working very hard while attending school. He’s teaching a couple of courses at night as well as giving private lessons to a few individuals. He saved some money, and he got a great deal on the airline tickets and hotel. I had no choice but to support him whole-heartedly. Of course I was nervous about letting him spread his wings all the way to a foreign country especially in these uncertain times.

     “You’ve only taken one semester of Japanese,” I said. “Won’t the language barrier be difficult?”

     “I know how to introduce myself and how to order food,” he answered.

     “Then you’re good to go,” I said with my usual sarcasm.

     And just like that, he was gone, – embarking on a solitary journey of self-discovery halfway around the world. Away from all the comforts of home. Plunged into a world of foreign intrigue with only his wits to keep him safe. More importantly, away from the safety net of his family to fall back on.

     After enduring a 13 hour flight to Asia, Max landed at the airport. There was a train from the airport to his hotel. The commute sounded easy until he emerged above ground from the train station and he realized he had no idea how to read the directions on his Japanese maps. He was lucky enough to meet a girl from France who spoke English, and her friend, Hiroki, who spoke English and Japanese. Together they deciphered directions to the hotel and they escorted Max to his lodgings.

     We kept in touch through Facebook messages and Facetime phone calls. Through the miracle of the internet I got to experience a visit to Shibuya (Tokyo’s Times Square). I received photos of some wondrous Japanese gardens, small patches of paradise in the middle of Japan’s high-tech modern city. Max made almost daily visits to the Asakusa Shrine which offered peace and comfort especially to travelers on journeys of self discovery.

     The hospitality of the Japanese people was amazing. A typhoon was headed for the city and the hotel gave my son an umbrella. One of the people he met treated him to an insider’s tour of Tokyo that you could never purchase as part of any package plan. In true Max fashion, he met someone who wanted to hire him as a model for a new line of Japanese clothing. He also met a concert promoter who was very interested in young American musicians.

     On his last free night, Hiroki invited my son to a jazz club. As an American jazz musician, Max was well received as a guest. A concert promoter was quick to offer Max a gig at a Japanese festival in October.   Sadly, Max had to decline due to school and work obligations in Boston.

     During our last video, chat, I sensed my son was getting homesick. I chatted with him on his computer screen as he packed his bags for the long flight home. I kept the mood upbeat. I didn’t mention how much his mother and I missed him and how glad I was that he was returning the next day.

     He looked at the screen and said, “I can’t wait to get back”.

     My heart glowed from within. He missed his family. “It won’t be long now. You’ll be home tomorrow night.”

     “No, I mean I can’t wait to get back to Japan,” he clarified.

     Wow. And he hadn’t even left yet.

     At age 21. my son found his place in the world. I didn’t know it would be on the other side of it. The look of contentment on his face and brightness in his smile, even through a dark and grainy video screen, could not be denied. As time passes, parents have to step back and let our children grow. Maybe that’s how grown-ups grow too.


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