Kei and Yoko

Originally published in Tokyo Notice Board, Aug 22 – Sept 4, 2014 issue

by Dan Asenlund

The question can hardly have escaped any expat in Japan, and is something most of us have to answer on an almost daily basis. I’m talking, of course, about the question why we chose to come to Japan. “To buy a cabin in Karuizawa and spend the nights chatting with Kawabata’s ghost” is one of my stock answers. “To marry Shibasaki Kou” is another. Not many, however, know the actual truth of why I chose to settle in Japan. Here’s the story about Kei and Yoko.

I had just arrived from Sweden (my place of birth and the country I grew up in) to Eugene on the American west coast. It was the first day of what was to be a four-year adventure studying journalism at the University of Oregon. The first day of international orientation where students of all nationalities were brought together to help indoctrinate us into the American system. Among us was a Japanese couple named Kei and Yoko. They were of the exact height, both had sparkly polished cheeks and stylish haircuts. Yoko was slightly older, and she was the one between them who spoke (English). Kei mostly stayed back and smiled. But they were always together – at the food court, the parties, in the classrooms. If you happened to see only one of them, you could be sure that the other one was not far away.

And then there was the ping pong battles. Me and a guy named Bjarne from Norway always got beat, but there was something in the manner of the couple in victory that really impressed me. Not to mention the manner of their occasional defeat. Something about the harmony this couple emanated must have moved me deeply, because I ended up choosing Japanese as the foreign language I needed for my Journalism degree. I got the last spot available and my life changed forever.

Soon I was a member of my university’s Japanese Student Organization, in charge of writing and directing a stage production for Japan Night. I made a bunch of Japanese friends and slowly fell in love with all things Japanese. A year and a half later I set foot in Japan as an exchange student in Tokyo, and a year after graduating (with a double major in Japanese) moved there to stay. None of this would have been possible if it weren’t for Kei and Yoko.

One day in the spring of my freshman year I saw Kei sitting alone at the food court. I thought Yoko was away getting dessert or something and would soon join him. But she didn’t appear. I asked Kei about her and he said, a tear discernible in his eye, that she had just been accepted into a prestigious university in Tokyo and would transfer there. He was happy for her, of course, but at the same time he realized the inevitable.

Kei and Yoko broke up. Yoko moved to Tokyo while Kei stayed in Oregon. I didn’t see him again until the fall of my sophomore year, when he passed me in the street with blood-shot eyes in the company of a tough gang. We said hi, but not much more. Kei’s studies fell apart and he met a new girl, totally different from Yoko. What happened to Yoko I don’t know.

And with this sad ending I would like to say thank you. Thanks Kei. Thanks Yoko. May happiness find you after all.

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