Konnichiwa, Hiro. Mukaeru!


So, here we were, sitting in our favorite Mexican restaurant in Newport Beach, caught in a wave of topsy-turvy emotions. Minutes before we thought our exchange student worries had been solved because our lad would have turned 18 while in American.  He was turned out of the program.  In the next breath we discovered that the Y.E.S. lady had brought us a substitute kid who couldn’t speak a word of English and he was about to meet us…3 weeks ahead of schedule.

What we didn’t know was the Japanese students were brought over 3 weeks early on purpose.  They were given a royal Southern Cal tour of all the highlights; 2 days at Disneyland, a day at Universal Studios, a day at Knotts Berry Farm Amusement park, the Hollywood Star bus tour, a Catalina cruise and on and on.  They had just stepped off the plane at John Wayne airport, non-stop from Tokyo, and the first stop was the Mexican restaurant where my wife and I were plotting our escape from the program.

So now, sliding into our booth was the exchange lady and this very cute small grinning 16 year old Japanese boy.  He was introduced to us as Hiroyasu, Hiro for short.  He put his hand over his heart and slapped it vigorously saying, sooo hoppy, sooo hoppy. We fell in love with Hiro on the spot.

The lady gave us a small translation book and I looked up the words above for Hello, Hiro. Welcome!  I probably didn’t pronounce them correctly but I’m sure I did the typical American thing and yelled them at him.

Our heads were spinning.  We were now very excited about Hiro coming into our lives for the next 10  months but had no idea how we would communicate or just get along.  We had three weeks to prepare so #1 was to find a Japanese interpreter.  We met with him a few times before Hiro moved in and he introduced us to a few Japanese restaurants that cooked familiar country style items, not the Benihana show room stuff.  I made trips to the high school and pre-enrolled him as a junior. They promised they would have a schedule completed when he arrived.

Hiro arrived and we had Steve, the interpreter, there with us to break the ice.  We could talk back and forth in our native languages and smile a lot.  Hiro was a doll.  Troy couldn’t wait to take him bike riding and show him the neighborhood, his new school, the ocean, the harbor and all the nice Newporty things.  The first of many amazing “Hiro things” was watching him unpack his suitcase.  His shirts were folded neatly into little squares the sized of paperback books.  I still don’t know how they did that.  He had more things in one suitcase then I could put in three.  He showered us with gifts from his parents and was at ease because Steve the interpreter was present.

Steve went home and we dove into our translation books and communication slowed way down.  It was dinner time and we had a typical American family dinner.  Hiro looked sick as he picked at the pot roast, mashed potatoes and carrots.  The next few days he nearly starved his already slight body and it was time to get him to a Japanese restaurant.  When the Sukiyaki was served he grinned from ear to ear.  This was his pot roast.  We bought a rice cooker and over-night his meals became a little more edible.

Then it was suddenly the first day of school.  Steve the interpreter was on hand to introduce him to his teachers and show him how to get around the large campus of Newport Beach High School.  Steve came back to our house pretty worried. He told us the horrible schedule the school had given this non-English speaking student; American History, Typing, English composition, etc.  Impossible!  Can you imagine going to a foreign language school and typing a foreign language or writing a story in a foreign language?  We couldn’t change his schedule for the first quarter.  Hiro was depressed.  He was lost at school, alone and home-sick.

We found a Japanese television station and after dinner every night he would watch an hour of Japanese game shows or talk shows.  He would smile the entire hour and we enjoyed watching them with him.  He would then go upstairs to his room and hit the books till at least midnight every night.  We could hear him softly saying English words and doing his little “sucking in air through his teeth” sound when he was stuck on a problem or had a failure to communicate.

At the end of the first quarter, this straight-A student from Japan, came home with a “D” in typing and a “D” in American History…duh.  I would have had a “double F”.  He worked so hard every night, seven nights a week.  He played just as hard after school but his discipline and work ethic were rubbing off on Troy and each of us.

At the end of the first quarter we were able to change his school classes to more Math, Science, English language, etc. and he was much happier.  He was now speaking English much better and I think I was yelling English at him much softer. We had a mutual admiration society now, all of us enjoyed Hiro and he enjoyed us.  At the end of the second quarter his grades were “A’s” and “B’s” and we were impressed.  I think Hiro showed Troy how hard work and discipline in school really paid off, because Troy’s grades improved right along with Hiro’s.

If it was possible for Hiro to smile even wider, it was the day he made the soccer team.  He was fast and a natural since he had been playing since he learned to walk. Troy was playing tennis at school and he introduced Hiro to that sport and he did fairly well at that too.  My Indiana roots insisted that Hiro play basketball and that sport stumped him.  I believe he could have kicked the ball through the hoop easier than shooting a jump shot.

I was interested in learning Japanese and Hiro was an excellent coach.  We would go to Japanese restaurants and he would allow us to order in Japanese.  He was excellent at Origami and would make animals, hats, or whatever out of any paper lying around.

June sadly came far too quickly.  We all shed tears as we said our goodbyes.

We exchanged some letters over the next few years, but then our communication ended.  The last word I had from Hiroyasu was he was going to study Commerce at the University.  I haven’t talked or heard from him since.

Over these past 30 years I have went on Japanese Yahoo, Japanese yellow pages and Facebook, typing in his name and finding nothing.  When the earthquake and tsunami hit one year ago, I thought of Hiro once again and searched every known search engine to see if his name would pop up….nothing.

I decided to write this piece on the anniversary of the tragedy and last night I once again searched online for Hiro. He would be in his mid to late 40s and I probably wouldn’t recognize him. I typed in his full name on Facebook for the 100th time and VOILA!  I think I found him!  The eyes look like him and I’m fairly certain it’s him.  I sent him a message immediately and I’m anxiously awaiting word back.
I’ll keep you all informed. Arigatou.

About bakoheat

Writer/Musician
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