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https://www.discovernikkei.org/en/journal/2023/5/24/color/

Color

I moved to a town covered in orange carpet that glistened in the sunlight.

“That’s the California poppy. It’s beautiful like gold, isn’t it?” Dad said, as he kept driving.

“Oh yeah?”

The scenery that quickly passed by the car window looked so different from Nagoya, where we used to live. Everything was bigger, broader, and different—the scent, the air, and people walking on the street.

In contrast to the shiny bright world outside the window glass, I felt lonely, worried and scared under the dark gray cloudy sky that seemed like it could start raining at any moment.


When I told my fifth grade classmates at school that I was going to move to America for Dad’s work, everyone’s eyes glistened. They said things like,

“You’re so lucky, Hyugo!”

“Wow! I envy you!”

“I want to live in Los Angeles, too! That’s so cool!”

So I had to swallow my true feelings and smile. “Yep, I’m really excited! I’m studying English really hard,” I told them.

“Oh, I’m sure you’ll have no problem with English, Hyugo,” Miyu-chan said, as she patted my shoulder.

“Los Angeles is a sister city to Nagoya,” said Tsukamoto-sensei, our homeroom teacher.

“Sister city?”

“In simple terms, it means that the two cities are good friends. They lie on the almost same latitude north of the equator. You can see them on a globe.”

As suggested by Tsukamoto-sensei, I brought the globe from the left shelf next to the blackboard and spun it to look for Los Angeles and Nagoya. I located Nagoya with my left index finger and Los Angeles with my right index finger.

“It’s true! They’re on the same horizontal line!”

“That’s right. We had a special sister city lunch the other day!” Issei-kun said. “You know, that fancy dish! With chicken, round bread, veggies, onion soup, and jelly!”

“Ah, right, right.”

“That was really good!”

How I missed those times when we had such chats after lunch in the classroom, our calligraphy on hanshi papers displayed on the wall and fluttering in the breeze from open windows.

Feeling beaten down and gray, I stared at the passing landscape as I sipped my fresh orange juice.

I wonder where we’re going today.

On his days off, Dad took me to many different places in his car.

In less than a month since we moved to Los Angeles, he took me to an amusement park, aquarium, museum, baseball game, basketball game, and last week, we went to not just one but two big theme parks.

I knew that he was doing his best to help me get to like this city as quickly as possible. He must have been tired from work, but he had to think and care about me. He probably couldn’t rest at home.

Sorry, Dad. I want to move on, get used to this city, and enjoy my new life here, too, but. . .

Would it have been different if Mom had been alive? I wasn’t sure. Besides, Dad probably wouldn’t have decided to live in Los Angeles if Mom had been around.

I took out my smartphone from my backpack and looked at its screen. For the phone’s wallpaper I had set a photo of me, my mom and dad.

Time had frozen from that day for Mom, gently smiling next to me.

Mom, I’m going to live in Los Angeles, I mumbled in my mind.

“Just like me, there’s a lot of Japanese kids at school, who came here because of their parents’ work. It feels like Japan. I can’t go out and play on my own, so I’m playing video games a lot more than before.”

The house I lived in with Mom was full of memories with her, so I didn’t want to move. But for Dad, it might have been too hard because he had too many memories. I could hear Mom’s voice in the living room, in the kitchen, and on the stairs. I could feel her scent. I thought I could hear her footsteps.

On the Friday night two weeks after the funeral, I saw Dad crying when he was washing the dishes. My heart skipped a beat. When our eyes met, he wiped his tears and gave me a weak smile.

“This plate, Sayuri-chan and I made this on a potter’s wheel when we went to Seto in the spring of our second year in marriage.”

“Is that the one you made?” I asked, glancing at the thick oval plate on the drainer.

“Yes, I was too clumsy and couldn’t do well. But Sayuri-chan made a perfectly round plate. The people at the workshop were very impressed.” Dad put the sponge down, rinsed the bubbles with water, and carefully put down the plate.

The plates that Dad and Mom made had been stored in the back of the cupboard for so long, but now we used them all the time. We put pancakes on them for breakfast, put our snacks, hamburg steak, tacos, or anything.


Grooowwwlll

My stomach rumbled. I wanted to eat the food Mom made. I wanted to eat the snacks she made. Ah, those daifuku rice cakes with strawberries in them, the ones she made a lot in spring. Mom, I want to eat that strawberry daifuku.

“I heard your stomach! Let’s go eat sushi!”

Dad said to me and began humming, as he turned the wheel. We kept driving straight on West Temple Street.

When I looked outside the window, I saw a bird with an orange belly flying.

I wish I had wings and could fly in the sky. I could just fly home then.

Ah, but it took twelve hours by plane. Even if I had the wings and could fly in the sky, how many hours would I need to keep flying?

Our car stopped as I flapped my imaginary wings in my head.


“What. . .”

My eyes nearly popped out of my head. I was awestruck.

I saw a summer festival right in front of me.

There was a red paper lantern, a red fire watchtower, and even a red torii gate! And there was the smell. It was the smell of Japan.

“What is this place?” I asked. My heart was racing.

“It’s Little Tokyo. They’ve got sushi, ramen, Japanese sweets, and everything! And it’s not just food. Japanese culture is here.”

I strolled through Little Tokyo, turning my head around to see all the things around me. The place was crowded, and some people looked like tourists were taking photos at a line of white paper lanterns with the word “Ennichi (a day you connect with god) Festival” written in black ink on them.

“Ah!”

Something dropped from a backpack that a girl in front of me was carrying. I picked it up and saw that it was a coin purse with some Japanese characters on it, so I jogged after her and called out in Japanese from behind.

“Hey, you dropped this!”

Hearing my voice, the girl turned back. She was wearing a T-shirt that had the same characters as her coin purse. Her black hair was shining orange in the sunlight, and her round dark brown eyes looked straight at me.

“Here, this fell off from your backpack.” When I showed her the coin purse, she opened her eyes wide for a moment and gave me a dazzling smile.

“Thanks!”

She received the coin purse affectionately with a smile and walked into a white building with a green awning tent attached to it. What kind of shop is this. . .?

It was a Japanese sweet shop!

“Dad, can we get sweets?”

“Sure we can!”


Inside the showcase of the shop were colorful manju buns in line. There were rice crackers and warabi-mochi (made from bracken starch), too. Are those pink ones sakura-mochi? What are those striped ones with pink, white and yellow green colors?

They all looked so delicious.

Then something caught my eye.

I saw shiny bright red strawberries sitting on top of the white manju buns that looked so fluffy and soft. Strawberry daifuku!

“Dad. . . that’s strawberry daifuku. . .” I couldn’t continue, so I shut my mouth tight. I knew I was tearing up from the dull pain I felt in my eyes.

Mom, Mom, Mom!

Dad’s face looked troubled, sad and concerned, all at the same time, and he held me tight in his arms.

I could smell Dad’s clothes. It had a citrus smell like lemon, a warm smell of the sun and a bitter smell like coffee.

“I can’t breathe,” I told him with a laugh, and Dad laughed with me, lowering his eyebrows.

“Are you all right?”

I turned back to the voice and saw the girl I’d met some minutes earlier. She gave me a worried look, drawing her brows together.

Daijyo-bu, arigato. (I’m okay, thanks)” I told her in Japanese. She tilted her head.

“I’m Japanese. Did I surprise you? I was born and raised in Japan. So you can talk to me in Japanese,” I told her, pretending that her reaction had not affected me.

I was used to it. I didn’t look Japanese. In Japan, I would be called gaijin and get stared at by people on a daily basis. Besides, I was in America, so it was only natural for people to speak to me in English. So this girl did nothing wrong, and there was no reason for me to get hurt. Of course not. . .


“Sorry. My grandchild Lily doesn’t understand Japanese,” an elderly man in a white uniform, who was standing in front of the showcase and looking like a confectionery chef, said to me in a gentle voice.

“What. . .?” I went speechless.

“Welcome. Did you come from Japan?”

“Yes. From Nagoya. Does your family live in Los Angeles?”

“Yes,” he smiled at me and nodded. “Our roots are in Japan, though. We were born in Los Angeles and grew up in Los Angeles. I can speak Japanese because my mother taught me, but my grandchild is still learning.”

“Oh.”


I felt so stupid that I was burning with shame. She was the same as me. I thought that she judged my looks and I felt sad about it, but I was doing the exact same thing to her.


“I haven’t seen you so long! How are you doing, Ken?”

Dad put his fist up in the air and said to the grandpa.

“It’s been so long, Jack! I haven’t seen you around for years. When did you come back? How is Sayuri doing?”

“Ah. . . Sayuri is up in the sky, Ken. Last December. Cancer.” Dad’s cheerful voice changed to a somber, sad one.

“Oh my. . .” Ken the grandpa turned pale, and his overcast face looked as if it was about to rain. “I’m sorry. I’m so sorry to hear that. I wanted to see her again.”

He said it in a trembling voice, as he covered his face with both hands. His shoulders were shaking.

“Do you know my mom?”

As I asked, the grandpa wiped his face with his handkerchief, and his teary dark brown eyes gazed at my face.

“Now I see. So you’re Sayuri’s son. You look just like her. Sayuri was a regular at this shop.” From the side of the showcase, he walked toward me, crouched down and held my hands.

“Sayuri loved our strawberrydaifuku. She told us it was the best in the world. And Jack was the one who introduced it to her. Your dad.”

“My dad?” I looked up to see Dad. He looked blushed and shy - a strange face I’d never seen before.

“When Sayuri felt lonely, sad, homesick, or when she had to cram for exams, Jack would always come here and buy a mountain of strawberrydaifuku. To cheer her up, to make her smile. It’s a magical treat, he said.”

“I. . . I love strawberrydaifuku, too. Mom would always make them in spring. They’re sweet and juicy and fluffy and. . . Mom. . .”

“Hyugo!”

Dad threw his arms around me, and we both cried. We wailed like babies.


“I like strawberrydaifuku, too. It’s cute and tastes happy.” Lily wrapped six daifuku cakes and handed them to me.

Two for each of us.

Two for Dad, two for me, and two for Mom in heaven.

“Thank you, Lily. I’m Hyugo. I’ll come here again. I hope we can be friends.”

“Sure, I was thinking the same thing,” Lily said with a smile that looked like cherry blossoms in bloom. “Welcome to Little Tokyo!”

A bird with an orange belly was flying in the clear blue sky. This city has memories of Mom that I don’t know. I don’t feel lonely anymore. My mom is here with me.

Hello, and nice to meet you, Little Tokyo! 

 

Actor Mayumi Sacoo reads “Color” by Miho Hirayama. From 10th Annual Imagine Little Tokyo Short Story Contest Awards Ceremony on May 20, 2023. Organized by the Little Tokyo Historical Society in partnership with JANM’s Discover Nikkei project.

 

*This is the winning story in the Japanese category of the Little Tokyo Historical Society’s 10th Imagine Little Tokyo Short Story Contest.

 

© 2023 Miho Hirayama

California fiction Little Tokyo Los Angeles United States
About this series

Each year, the Little Tokyo Historical Society’s Imagine Little Tokyo Short Story Contest heightens awareness of Los Angeles’ Little Tokyo by challenging both new and experienced writers to write a story that captures the spirit and essence of Little Tokyo and the people in it. Writers from three categories, Adult, Youth, and Japanese language, weave fictional stories set in the past, present, or future. This year is the 10th anniversary of the Imagine Little Tokyo Short Story Contest. On May 20, 2023 in a celebration moderated by Tamlyn Tomita, noted actors, Greg Watanabe, Mika Dyo, and Mayumi Seco performed dramatic readings of each winning entry.

 

Winners


*Read stories from other Imagine Little Tokyo Short Story Contests:

1st Annual Imagine Little Tokyo Short Story Contest >>
2nd Annual Imagine Little Tokyo Short Story Contest >>
3rd Annual Imagine Little Tokyo Short Story Contest >>
4th Annual Imagine Little Tokyo Short Story Contest >>
5th Annual Imagine Little Tokyo Short Story Contest >>
6th Annual Imagine Little Tokyo Short Story Contest >>
7th Annual Imagine Little Tokyo Short Story Contest >>
8th Annual Imagine Little Tokyo Short Story Contest >>
9th Annual Imagine Little Tokyo Short Story Contest >>
11th Annual Imagine Little Tokyo Short Story Contest >>

Learn More
About the Author

Miho Hirayama is a mother of an extremely low birth weight (ELBW) infant. She is a big fan of Naomi Osaka and Serena Williams. Her dreams include having children’s books that she wrote in libraries all over the world so that many children can read them, seeing her son play tennis at the US Open, and encouraging her daughter to pursue whatever she is interested in.

Updated May 2023

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