The song Toryanse, meaning “pass this way,” is a traditional Japanese folk song. Many children remember hearing the song, but they do not know its deeper meanings. It is a scary song after one knows the real meaning. In Japan, the song is played by traffic signals when it is safe to cross. People walk across the street without considering the meanings of the song because they are too used to hearing it. How come they do not worry every time they hear the sound pattern? The true meaning of the song is “Pass this way, but don’t pass unless you have something important, because it is okay to leave, but scary to come back.”
In this story, a boy, experiences one mysterious thing, changing his life completely. This is his story.
I, Isshin, believed that my life would be the same forever until I had one experience in Tokyo, Japan. I was only 10 years old, a fourth grader, at that time. I was raised in Tokyo and did not know anything more than that. I liked to play soccer with ten classmates every day, even during weekends. I often heard Toryanse without considering anything before reaching a particular park to play soccer. There are separate ways before going to the park. At that time, people always told us not to go to the right way but the left way to the park. If I choose the wrong way, I would see disasters instead of the park, according to the rumor. I just listened to the rumor until a particular time.
One day in October, I asked the usual members to play soccer, but everybody said that they wanted to study hard from then on to enter better schools for junior high schools for their future, and they wanted to limit the play time. I was so disappointed to hear that they wanted to focus on studying instead of playing. I just walked on the way to the park kicking a soccer ball by holding the string of the ball back. I finally saw the separate ways. Usually, I chose the left side, but I was upset at that time, so I did not mind seeing anything scary by myself. Therefore, I chose the right side and started walking that way. I saw a lot of tall trees and flowers by the path. I never saw any tall trees on the left side path. After walking for three minutes, I saw somebody’s back. I was scared at first and jumped back. It was a girl wearing a red ribbon on her head, a long red one-piece, and red shoes, taking care of flowers. She turned around and saw me.
“Please don’t kill me because I did not know that it was okay to come here.”
However, she replied, “Could you help me take care of these flowers?”
I did not know what to say, but I thought that it was better not to reject the favor, so I just nodded and picked up a water can to water the flowers.
It took a while to finish taking care of the flowers, but they looked more beautiful after that. “I have not seen anybody for a long time besides my family, so if you do not mind, I will prepare tea and a snack for you,” she said.
I was still scared, but I accepted her offer and followed her. When we reached her house, I saw it was made of bricks in a European style. I had never seen such a house in real life. When she rang the bell, a woman with glasses answered the door.
“Oh, Otowa,” the woman said, “You finally brought a friend. I will prepare special tea and a snack for him.”
I entered the house and everything I saw there was mysterious for me. I thought that Western style furniture was only for fairy tales, but I clearly saw it in front of me as soon as getting into the house.
I sat in the dining room with Otowa and waited for her mother to come. She said, “Here you go” when she brought tea and cookies.
“Thank you,” I said.
“This is English Breakfast Tea and a cookie from Germany, where we went this past summer. Just make yourself at home. By the way, what is your name?”
I did not know what to do, but I answered, “Isshin.”
“I have never heard that name before. What does it mean?”
“Passing one way.”
As soon as she heard the comment, she smiled.
I asked her, “Anything funny?”
“You just came by another way you had never seen, so you did not choose just one way then.”
“That’s true,”I said, a bit embarrassed.
I did not think that the right way led me into any disasters, so I asked her about it.
“I came to Tokyo two years ago, but I was not like a regular Japanese,” she said. “I liked bright color clothes and spoke differently while others preferred drab colors and spoke like people in Tokyo. I used to go to the school which was ten minutes away from my house by walking, but even teachers there said to me that it was entirely my fault that people treat me badly, because I do not act in the same ways without hearing any explanation.”
I actually remembered rumors about the school rejecting people from different schools in general. I felt that I was lucky not to go there when I was in the second grade.
She asked me, “How old are you?”
“I just turned ten last week.”
“Oh, happy belated birthday,” she said.
I was surprised that she said that to me even though it was the first time we had seen each other.
I asked, “How about you?”
“My birthday is in two weeks. If you want, you are welcome to come. My birthday is as same as Halloween day, so I recommend that you wear a costume.”
I was not familiar with Halloween, so I asked, “What should I wear?”
“Whatever you want.” she said, smiling.
After that time, I did not bother boys who cared for mainly studying anymore and tried to meet and talk to her when nobody was watching me pass the way. I did not want to talk about her to anybody because people, including adults, believed only rumors and did not try to know the truth. The other boys eventually realized that my behavior changed. On October 31, I went to the flower store and bought red roses for her, and I carried a hero character helmet which I had not used for a long time, hiding it in my backpack. On the way to her house, I happened to see the usual boys around the separate ways and it caused me a disaster.
“Hey, you were passing the right side at this time? What are the red roses for? Also, what are you carrying?”
“None of your business. I do not want to be late for her birthday and Halloween party,” I answered.
“Oh, you saw a ghost there? Also you were attracted to the girl ghost?”
“She is not a ghost. She was warm-hearted person. You guys should see her first.”
“Oh, you were finally possessed by the ghost,” they said. “You are not a human anymore, so you should not mind whatever we do to you.”
Then ten boys started fighting with me, stepped on the red roses.
“How childish you are,” they said. Seeing my helmet inside my backpack, they threw it to the ground, hitting it with soccer balls and baseball bats.
Otowa heard the noise and realized something was wrong. She appeared in front of us from the right road.
The boys were so scared and shouted, “The ghost!” and ran away.I was upset and cried a little bit, but she picked up the messy roses and blackened helmet.
“Welcome to my birthday and Halloween party,” she said. “I am happy that you really came for me.” She wiped my tear with a clean red handkerchief. It smelled of roses. I was embarrassed to have bruises, messy closes, and broken stuff, but all she wanted was me to show up.
The party was an unusual thing for me. I saw blue-eyed, green-eyed, gray-eyed, hazel-eyed, blond haired, light-brown haired, red haired and dark-skinned people there. She told me she met them in the United States and they were all over in Japan at that time.
“We have no choice but to have distance learning programs now, but we are planning to go back to the USA as soon as the adults’ jobs are done next month,” she explained.
I was surprised to hear that.
“We just became friends, I will be sad when you are gone.”
“Just believe yourself that you will eventually see me again if you wish. Don’t forget to send letters to me,” she said.
“I won’t forget.”
Even after she went back to the USA, I kept sending letters to her. She sent me pictures of there to me, but I could not send any pictures because I could not talk to anybody including my parents after meeting her. When I was a high school student, I often dyed my hair bright red without asking anybody and had a lot of criticism at school and home. However, all I wanted was to meet her again. She was in Old Town at that time and planning to go to a community college in Maine. I got always good grades for English tests while other subjects were just average levels. My parents often criticized me to study harder, but I did not feel the necessity to do that because I wanted to go to the same college she was going to go.
I was told to go to top universities in Tokyo, but I never worried about it. I did not apply to any schools except a school in Maine. In Japan, studying extra years to enter colleges or universities is embarrassing, so my parents reluctantly decided to send me to Maine. I sent her the letter before leaving Japan. Then I received the reply within two weeks which said, “I will wait for you in the airport.”
My parents saw me off in the airport near Tokyo, waving hands and finally smiling. I smiled back to them with appreciation for sending me to Maine. It was a long trip. I had to use two airplanes, taking me 15 hours to reach Maine. I tried to find her, but it was difficult to find her because so many people wore bright color clothes like hers. Suddenly I heard the voice behind me.
“Isshin, is it you?”
I turned around and saw an eighteen-year-old woman with a red ribbon, red clothes, and red shoes, just as I saw her before.
“Otowa,” I said, hugging her. We started walking to the outside of the airport. Her parents were waiting to welcome me. They drove me to my new apartment. She was planning to live with her parents in another apartment which was five minutes away by walking from my apartment at that time. I was wondering what would happen in the USA, but people welcomed me as long as I tried to understand them. Nobody complained when I dyed my hair bright red.
Even though I am 18 years old, an adult now, I still remember the song, Toryanse. Once I passed the right road, there was no way to come back. I do not regret it because I try to know new things without hesitation.. I talk with Otowa everyday now and we will see what will happen in the future.
The true beauty is inside. Don't be tricked by the superficial beauty without knowing the truth.