Anyone has a precious trip in his or her life. My father has a number of stories of his trip, and most of them are unbelievably dramatic. There was, however, a story, which he had never told us before. Although I am not sure it can be the appropriate title of the story, I just title it “A trip to the first love”. Whatever the ending of the story was, a girl was his motivation of the trip.
When my father was a high school junior, he went to Kyoto for the school trip. The luckiest thing for the boys including my father that the students from a girls’ high school in Sapporo, Hokkaido (the Japan’s second biggest island), were staying at the same hotel. Probably it was rare for him to meet girls from Hokkaido in his daily life. Needless to say, the boys were mad with curiosity, but surprisingly it was the girls who started talking to. “Since we are staying at the same hotel, why don’t we have a recreation for interaction?” Of course, all the boys happily agreed. My father happened to be a PE committee and became the head to organize the recreation. Then he made friends with S who was also the head of the girls’ high school. They exchanged their contact and sending letters each other after the school trip. In the summer of high school senior my father, who was a member of cycling club, participated in the competition of inter-high school championships held in Tokushima, Shikoku. At that time, he was still in correspondence with S. He had a strong desire to go and see her by bicycle after the championships, but the plan to go to Sapporo by bicycle tuned out to be impossible because the championships lasted longer than he thought. Yet, once he decided to go, he wanted to do it by all means. The problem was he couldn’t afford the traveling cost. “Ok, that leaves me one choice—I will hitchhike to Sapporo!” he made up his mind. Even though he didn’t have enough money, he needed something to help him when the worst happened. To 18-year-old him, the only idea came to his mind was to bring some rice with him. Thus, he set out on a journey with only 5,000 Yen, his entre fortune, and a bag of rice, but not much of his belongings.
First he had to go as far as Aomori, and then took Aomori-Hakodate ferry. Hitchhiking to Aomori was unexpectedly smooth, but the biggest problem was how to get aboard on the ferry. Still it was not that he didn’t have any idea and that was to ask somebody who get aboard with car to give him a ride as a favor. He had already learnt something through the experience of a few hitchhiking from Niigata to Aomori; a couple, especially a newlywed couple being in midst of happiness was extremely kind (most of the time, women had sympathy for him). When he found a seemingly newlywed couple was going on board, he targeted them without doubt. “Tell you the truth, there is a girl in Sapporo who I want to see,” he told them, and then they gave him a ride easily. Tsugaru Straits he overlooked for the first time on the ferry was shining. He set out on a journey on a whim, but he managed to come that far. It seemed that the things worked out as long as he had a willing heart. His luck, spirit, and intuition— all of them worked together well to make him head out to her. Although it was the first time for him to make a trip to see someone, he could find all the process of the trip was leading to her and each one of them meant to be something important for him.
They arranged to meet at Sapporo clock tower in the Odori Park at one o’clock in the afternoon. He waited for her little nervously. At shortly after one, he started looking for her. “Amano?” it was S. Seeing her for the first time in a year, he honestly felt that she looked different to what he remembered. If she didn’t talk to him, maybe he didn’t recognize her as S. Despite his confusion, she naturally led the conversation. “A new underground mall was built and we can eat fruit parfait there. How does that sound?” Back in those days, a huge city planning project was going on in Sapporo for the Sapporo Olympic Games, and the underground mall was built as one of them. On that day, he ate fruit parfait for the first time, which was probably her favorite sweets, but he didn’t remember its taste at all. What he remembered were: he was uncharacteristically nervous, he couldn’t talk much, and he was treated by girl for the first time. It was the first time and the last time for my father to be treated by women. Then, they said each other “take care”, and separated. There was no “let’s meet again” from both sides. Being alone, it briefly crossed his mind “I wanted to eat Ramen, not fruit parfait…” Then suddenly, stronger than that wish, something emptiness stroke him. It might have been too early for him to call this experience a broken heart, but he started questioning himself in this situation; “who was in my heart to make me travel that far after all?” He felt S who he met here was not the girl he had knew. Well, perhaps he met S for the first time on that day in a real sense. However, nothing special was born within him, and probably also not within her. Fruit parfait was the only thing they could share each other.
As he learnt, he got aboard on the return ferry successfully on a couple’s car. The view of Tsugaru Straits looked amazingly different to what he had seen on his way. When he was hitchhiking in Aomori after he got off the ferry, a car driven by obviously a Japanese gangster passed in front of him. A showy woman was on the front passenger seat. While he was praying in his mind, “please don’t stop,” the car stopped a few meters away. “Don’t be shy, boy! Get in.” The tattoos on both of the man’s arm were not hidden completely in his short sleeves. Although my father seriously didn’t want to get in the car, it was him who asked for it. He held back many times but the man kept telling him, “get in, get in,” so my father got into the car. However, the kind gangster unexpectedly listened earnestly to my father. And his emptiness became a little lesser thanks to the eccentric man. While he was telling his life story to the real gangster, he thought this experience was much bigger than the one of heart broken. In the end, the man arranged the next ride with a truck driver who was going to Niigata, and saw my father off. During this trip, my father rode in 46 cars as total. The correspondence with S ended then.
Whatever the ending would be, a trip leaves something precious for your life.
It is not a catchphrase I found on the advertisement of Japan Railways—probably it can be a phrase for anyone.
text & illustration by Sayuri Amano