Unmistakably, Japan has a place in my heart. Strangely, though I haven't been back in four years and haven't lived here for nearly 16 years, I couldn't help but feel that somehow I was coming back home. From the surprisingly smooth and friendly pass through customs at Narita (it always helps to say your coming to visit relatives), to the attendants at the Hotel New Otani helping me get a cab and change despite not being a guest, I felt I had fallen into some strange vortex that transferred me back to my days as an exchange student at Sophia University. So, just hours removed from San Francisco and, unfortunately, LAX, I was now just a stone's throw from some of my former residences in Yotsuya, and was back on a familiar alley enjoying yakitori with a friend and musical mentor of my yesterdays. The song remains the same...maybe it just gets better with age.
Though it is as cold as hell frozen over, the warmth of family and the embrace of the familiar is more than enough to beat the chill. My mother-in-law is as bright and genki as ever, and my father-in-law and I resumed our annual discussion on the state of baseball. He finally forced me to admit that Barry Bonds before SF and after retirement is not the Michellin-man looking dude that won the hearts of all San Franciscans....but he couldn't dispute my contention that cheating and drugs are just a part of the American game and always have been. (OK, fine, I will be a Bonds apologist until the day I die, and I will continue to curse Dusty Baker and Russ Ortiz for Game 6 until the Giants win a World Series). We might not be able to have these discussions over sake anymore, but I always love the exchange, and will never forget that he started me on my sake adventure in the first place!