Between the ages of 4 and 8, my family and I lived in Kyoto, Japan. As a monolingual, British immigrant, most of my free-time was spent with my sisters. At 6, I moved next door to Tsubasa. This letter is for him, in an effort to reconnect, 13 years later.
For the past 13 years, your handcrafted Totoro card made out of ribbon, sticks and craft paper has sat on the bookshelf in my bedroom. While it has long found a home amongst my books, pictures and knick knacks, I sometimes find myself staring at it, thinking back to our high-spirited days under the Japanese sun as children.
We’d ride our bikes, climb trees and push one another down the slide, whilst not sharing a word in exchange, rejecting the cultural and linguistical boundaries that would keep most apart.
With each knock at my door on Saturday mornings to each wave of goodnight in the cool nighttime air that separated my bedroom window from your balcony, you showed me the breadth of friendship and the ability to love a person for their actions, not only their words.
You gave me the gift of feeling welcome in a country that I was naturally isolated in. You held a depth of acceptance and care for an immigrant most adults will never develop. You showed me a world of belonging.
The simplicity and innocence of our friendship is perfectly encapsulated in the Totoro card you gave me the day I left for America.
“Thank you for playing with me,” you wrote in Japanese. “Please don’t forget about me. I hope you stay healthy and very successful.”
More than a decade later, I sit here and wonder where you are, who you’ve become and what you’ve achieved. Do you still remember me?
With only your first name, childhood address and this image of you, I don’t have much information to work out where you are now. So I’ll start with this letter and hope that, for the first time in more than a decade, words can connect me to someone I never shared them with.