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Imagine Little Tokyo Short Story Contest III

Home is Little Tokyo

Year: 2082

It was quite an unusual action for Takeo to venture out into the streets of Los Angeles. The old man was reserved and reticent, only making small talk to a few. Usually he stayed home, painting and reading books. Yet today, he felt different. He felt he needed to go to Little Tokyo, as if a string of fate was pulling him to a place he needed to be.

Takeo firmly believed in fate. Ever since he was a young boy, he believed in the myth that he and his soulmate were connected by the red thread of fate. He believed in no accidents and in no coincidences. Thus, when he had a hankering to go to Little Tokyo, he was determined to be there. Perhaps, there his fate awaited him.

Gripping onto his cane, he walked down sidewalks, where his neighbors turned to gawk, since it was rare to see Takeo outside of his home. Why would the old man leave his home? Was it important? Was he meeting someone? Questions fluttered in the minds of those who saw Takeo. Seeing the reclusive old man would be a definite topic of the evening chatter.

Yet Takeo paid no attention to the onlookers. He embraced each and every step to Little Tokyo; it was a journey he had taken numerous times, many years ago. Before technology boosted up in advancement and when cars would drive on four wheels, instead of hovering above roads.

At a time before all that, Takeo would frequently come to Little Tokyo. It was a warm place full of memories of his youth; a place he’d call home. He briefly stopped at First Street and Central Avenue, and looked up to see the Home is Little Tokyo mural. It was a little dusty and some paint had flaked off, but the artwork was still bursting with life and color. He rejoiced that it had retained its vivid image.

Things had changed drastically in the world. Takeo felt the earth had become fraudulent and people were distant with each other, only talking to others through a screen or projection, never knowing the comfort of a shoulder or the warmth of a hand. What had happened to common etiquette? To cordial understanding and the feeling of sympathy? They left as quickly as his youth, and Takeo too, became the introvert he once was.

Yet hope prevailed within him as he looked upon the mural, upon Little Tokyo. It was still the lively place it was all those years ago. It teemed with life and color, the natural and authentic beauty remained. The people here were just as warm and welcoming as Takeo remembered. He smiled as a gentle breeze blew past him and he continued to walk forward. Suddenly he heard the resonant sound of Taiko drummers. Ah yes, he thought to himself, that was how we had met.

Year: 2016

Sixty-six years ago, Takeo was sixteen years old and a member of Taiko drummers. It was the early spring of 2016, and Takeo and the other members would perform in Little Tokyo, in the vast area in front of the Japanese American Cultural and Community Center.

Takeo loved Taiko drumming. He liked the way his fingers wrapped around the bachi sticks and the sound they made when he pounded them against the textured skin of the taiko drum. The sound and movement took hold of him and when he would play, nothing could distract him.

After the members had set everything up, they began. Takeo hit his drum with passion and might. The booming sound surrounding him was awakening his soul. The sound ran through him like a pulse. It came to him smoothly and effortlessly. He briefly looked up at the crowd. Everyone was transfixed on the sight of the drummers, but one in particular caught Takeo’s eye.

She had flowing black hair that glistened in the spring sun, the most enchanting eyes, and a charismatic smile. She wore a lavender kimono sprinkled with pink cherry blossoms, and her obi, the sash wrapped around her waist, was a custard yellow. She enchanted him, and for the first time Takeo lost focus of his taiko drumming completely. He dropped his bachi sticks and tried to recover quickly, yet made numerous mistakes in the process.

Stressed and tired from his earlier performance, Takeo went to the James Irvine Garden to clear his mind. He would help tend to it every Friday and it was the only place he felt truly peaceful. His favorite place in the garden was the small bridge that curved over the gushing water, and that was where he stood. He felt embarrassed and humiliated. He wondered if he could ever live it down. Takeo heard the crunch of footsteps, but assuming it might be the usual tourist or small children passing through, he ignored it. Little did he know, it was someone else entirely.

It was her. The enchanting girl, the reason he lost focus. She stood next to him and looked over the bridge. “The garden is quite beautiful, isn’t it?” she said. Takeo was too shocked and surprised to say real words so he simply nodded his head. “I saw you play.” She continued, “You were really amazing.” Takeo felt his face grow hot and his heart beat faster, having his shy personality all he could utter was, “Thank you.”

“I think I’ve seen you come here before,” she said.

“Yeah,” Takeo said, a little more calm. “I come here every Friday to tend the garden.”

“Ah!” She clapped her hands together and smiled, “Yes! So it is you, I was right!” she giggled playfully. Takeo looked at her, she was even prettier up close. She was a vivid cherry blossom, beautiful and delicate, her warmth and beauty radiated all around her. Takeo was in awe just watching her smile.

“What’s your name?” she asked.

“Takeo,” he said, with more confidence, “And yours?”

She smiled again and said, “Kumiko.”

Year: 2082

Kumiko woke up that Saturday morning with one thought in mind. She needed to go to Little Tokyo. Some sort of gut feeling told her. It was an odd determination she had never felt before. Therefore, in the early morning she walked to Little Tokyo, How long has it been since I’ve been here? she thought to herself.

The world had changed, but Little Tokyo remained the same. Little Tokyo was still her home. How many memories were stored away at each corner? Many that were sure to make her heart ache and flutter. Oh, how she loved it here.

She was in the Village Plaza, the red and white paper lanterns dangled above her. There were many new shops, and some older ones she remembered from back when she lived in Little Tokyo. Her father’s bakery was once here. Now it was a souvenir shop, but she remembered the excitement of tasting her desserts and watching the overjoyed expression of customers eating their sweet delicacies. It was her first job, and it held memories she could never forget.

Year: 2016

Kumiko sat behind the counter of her Father’s bakery, her hair pulled back, and her fingers powdering the sponge cakes. Business was slower than usual that Friday. Kumiko heard the door open. She looked up to say “Welcome!” but was surprised to see Takeo standing in the doorway. She beamed with joy. Takeo nervously smiled and ordered an anpan or red bean bun. Kumiko was happy he came. They had been hanging out more often and Kumiko truly enjoyed his company. After her shift was over, they roamed the streets of Little Tokyo.

Takeo would talk about the garden. He knew every blossom and blade of grass that was there. Kumiko liked hearing and watching him talk. Usually, he’d be shy and quiet, but he seemed to open up about things he was passionate about. They went to Weller Court and enjoyed a hot bowl of ramen. “I love this town,” Takeo declared. “I think I’d want to live here when I get older.”

“Because of the garden?” asked Kumiko.

“Not exactly,” he said. “Everything here is wonderful. The weather, the food, the people. This is a place where dreams are made of and can come true. People spend a lifetime looking for a place they can call home, and I think I’ve found mine.” It was Takeo’s word that made her eyes widen and her heart flutter fast. It was that moment Kumiko realized she cared for Takeo like she had cared for no other person before. It was warmer and more tense, but she liked being around him and wanted to spend more time with him. A feeling she was soon to understand was called love.

Year: 2082

Takeo crossed the street and came to stop by the Friendship Knot. The long white knot triggered a flood of memories, it was one of the spots Kumiko and he would usually meet. He missed those days. He missed springtime with Kumiko. He missed Little Tokyo. He could hardly believe it had been 66 years since he met his first love.

Year: 2016

Takeo walked the rest of the way to Little Tokyo, he had already taken the bus. Little Tokyo was his home, he was sure of that. He wished it wasn’t a bus and walk away. He wanted to live there, closer to the garden, the shops, Kumiko.

The clear skies and bright sun enlightened him. The mural and flaming red yagura welcomed him. A large smile spread across his face, for he knew he had arrived in Little Tokyo.

Takeo awaited Kumiko at the Friendship Knot. It had already been two months since they first met, and they would spend every Friday together in Little Tokyo. She came quickly with her hair in a ponytail and stood next to him, but a passing stranger bumped into her and she pushed into Takeo. Although the teenagers only touched for a moment, their faces grew red. Takeo, trying to break the silence said, “Let’s head to the sweets sho---” he paused. He felt Kumiko slip her hand into his. Their fingers intertwined and created a warmth, warmer than anything he’d felt before. It felt like they were connected, just like their fate, and whatever was going to happen they would be together.

From then on, the two made an even greater effort to see each other. Hand in hand, they explored every nook and cranny in Little Tokyo. Every aspect they discovered, the more they loved. It was almost as if the town unfolded in front of them, revealing its hidden treasures. Little Tokyo soon became their world, and neither Takeo nor Kumiko thought it would ever end.
 

Year: 2082

Kumiko walked further down to make her way to the garden; children full of life and energy ran past her. Kumiko remembered when she once rambled around as a young child, when Little Tokyo was her backyard. It was where she had spoken her first words, had her first job, had her first love. It was the place she grew up.

As she walked into the garden, she couldn’t help but have her heart ache. Kumiko stood on the bridge, running her fingers over the wooden railings. She remembered it was the first and last place she was with Takeo.
 

Year: 2016

Nearly the end of spring, Takeo and Kumiko stood over the bridge of the garden. Both enjoying the gorgeous view, but Kumiko felt nervous. She knew she had to tell him soon. “Takeo,” she swallowed. “I’m leaving.”

Takeo was in shock, “Where?”

“Portland.”

“Why?”

“My grandfather passed and my grandmother is alone, so we’re moving to live with and to take care of her,” she said quietly.

“When are you leaving?”

“Next week Wednesday. This is the last day I’ll spend with you.” Her voice got smaller, “I just found out yesterday.”

He stood on the bridge, quiet, as if he’d closed himself off from the rest of the world. Kumiko, not knowing what to say, she put her hand on the wooden railings and gazed over the bridge. After a long silence, Takeo looked up and put his hand over hers; he said, “Three months ago, I met you; I believe this was fate. I believe we were fated to meet then and we are fated to meet again. However long it takes, we’ll meet again.”
 

Year: 2082

Takeo remembered the last day he saw Kumiko. He remembered the warmth of her hand under his and the beauty of the garden. Kumiko, his first love, he wondered what she looked like now.

As he entered the garden he turned to the right and saw someone on the bridge. He immediately knew who it was even before she turned around to face him. Her hair now short and gray still glistened in the spring sun. Her eyes were still the enchanting eyes that he met all those years ago.

Her beauty remained unchanged. The two looked at each other and smiled. How long had they waited for this moment? How long had it been? Yet none of those questions seemed to matter. He walked to stand beside her on the bridge; birds chirped and the azaleas were in bloom.

Kumiko smiled and said, “The garden is quite beautiful, isn’t it?” Yes, those were the words that had started it all. He placed his hand over hers. Her hand, although different now, still carried the same warmth. The warmth of her hand, the glow of her smile.

She was beautiful, time could not change that. He loved her and was loved by her. Time could not erase the memories they made and the happiness they shared in Little Tokyo.

Although the years had passed, both Takeo and Kumiko had loved this town. The love they had for this town, and for each other, would not change. The two leaned their heads together, clasping each other’s hands and looked out into the ravishing scenery of the garden as the cool water gushed beneath them.

 

*This story is the Youth Category Runner Up in the Little Tokyo Historical Society’s Imagine Little Tokyo Short Story Contest III.

 

 

© 2017 Yuriko Chavez

fiction Imagine Little Tokyo little tokyo lths short story taiko

About this series

The Little Tokyo Historical Society’s third short story contest has concluded with more creative stories related to the Little Tokyo community. As in the previous year, there were winners in the English language category, the Japanese language, and also the Youth category with cash prizes for the First Place winners. This year there was a special donation made by the Bunkado gift shop located in Little Tokyo in celebration of Bunkado’s 70th Anniversary of doing business after World War II.

Winners

Runner Ups

  • English Language Category: “Merry Christmas Mario-san” by Rubén Guevara
  • Youth Category: “Home is Little Tokyo” by Yuriko Chavez
  • Japanese Language Category:
    • “Father & Daughter and Little Tokyo” by Akira Tsurukame
    • “Fusion City” by Takiko Morimoto


Read stories from other Imagine Little Tokyo Short Story Contests:

Imagine Little Tokyo Short Story Contest I >>
Imagine Little Tokyo Short Story Contest II >>