I went to Tokyo a free spirit with no strings for a 6 month job as a fashion illustrator for a major department store.
They wanted “a real New York fashion illustrator on their Japanese team”. When the guy called me in to his New York office and announced they had chosen me out of 10 candidates, he asked me if I wanted to know why they had chosen me. I said “Sure, why?”. He said “ Because we thought you would survive “. “ I said what does that mean?” And he just laughed.
That night I happened to be having dinner with a man I had met recently, far older than myself , who happened to be a world famous Japan scholar. Ivan Morris was 48 years old at the time, ancient to my 26 years old perspective. But he was fascinating and brilliant. To make conversation, knowing he taught one semester a year at Columbia University on the subject of Japanese something or other, I thought it would amuse him to know I was asked to go to Japan on assignment. I had intended to turn that down as I was really not that interested in going to Japan. But he proceeded to spend the rest of the evening telling me how it would change my life and I’d have to go.
My boyfriend at the time , a successful industrial designer was about to take his annual trip to a villa in Mexico. He wanted me to go with him, but was quite open minded and supportive. He said “ Ok .Take the 6 month job in Japan, then meet me in Mexico”. But 6 months turned into 37 years, and I never made it to Mexico.
Arriving in Tokyo I was greeted by seven very short people holding a flag that said “R-Y-N-N-S-A-N” , they don’t do “L’s , but some how I recognized that was for me. We all piled into 2 cars for the long trip from Haneda airport to central Tokyo where I was installed in a hotel in Azabu that was to burn down 20 years later. For those few evenings I spent there it was like being in a space capsule on the other side of the moon. I measured the room for my own understanding of exactly how small this room was. I put my arms out and could touch both walls. In that cell there was a bed, a chair, a night table, a telephone and a lamp, and a tiny bathroom off to the side . It was adequate for me, no complaints. But coming from NYC I was amazed how small it was. Over the next few days I was taken around Tokyo and introduced to people like I was the prized cow bought at the best fair. Lots of people were looking at me and nodding, speaking this strange language I did not understand. I was subjected to dozens of long meetings with smoking men speaking only Japanese, and about what, I had no idea. I had to excuse myself periodically because I couldn’t breathe in these smoke filled conference rooms. Days later I was introduced to my cute little apartment, 3 train rides in excruciatingly packed human cattle cars away from my office .
The Japanese country side smelled of tatami everywhere, a woven mat flooring used in traditional homes, and I was to find out later in my yet undiscovered new life , it was also on the floors of the traditional Sumo stables.
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