Copyright 2002 by Marc Robinson




Note: Bracketed dialogue is translated from the Japanese, unbracketed is in English.

I had a place in Tokyo near the Olympic Village. It was a little room with a sink, a small stove and a smaller refrigerator, a shelf with a Japanese dictionary and a few other books, a table, and a bed that was too short for me. I shared the bathroom and the bath with the other people on my floor. This was in 1974.

By the time I'd been living in my apartment for a couple of months, I'd become friends with many of my neighbors, and discovered that Japanese politeness is mostly genuine. It came as something of a shock when I realized this. I'd always read that the politeness was an act they put on, a sort of social lubricant. But many of them went out of their way to explain things to me, to help with the bureaucracy, even to buy helpful little gifts.

One of my friends was a middle-aged woman who lived just down the block in a duplex with her husband and their fourteen-year-old daughter. Mrs. Sugimoto always seemed to be outside in her garden when I walked past, and often had some small gift waiting for me. She would insist that I wait while she ran into the house for it. Then she would come out and press it into my hands. Often it was a delicacy -- a special kind of pickled vegetable, or sashimi. She always refused my thanks. I rarely saw her husband. He was an executive at an advertising agency, a "salaryman", and his hours were very long. On Sunday, when he was off work, he spent most of the day sleeping. Occasionally I saw him in their driveway, washing the car. It was quite a status symbol, to have a house with a driveway, and a car. They didn't drive it much. The day they took me to the beach, the car was so immaculate inside and out that I was surprised it didn't still have the new-car smell.

The Sugimoto daughter was named Yuko. Her mother like to brag about how smart the girl was, and what a good student, and that she might even be able to get into Tokyo or Waseda University. Then she would catch herself and apologize for being so boastful. When I'd known her long enough to feel indebted for her many kindnesses, I offered to tutor Yuko in English. I was busy, and always tired, though I didn't say this. Aikido practice in the mornings, and teaching six days a week, left me worn out, but I could fit in an hour or two a week. I said I would tutor Yuko for free, but Mrs. Sugimoto insisted on paying the rate my employer charged for my services. I quoted what they paid the other tutors, instead of the rate the Institute charged for my time. There was little chance of her learning that I was only charging her half my usual fee, and even if she did, she was Japanese and wouldn't make a fuss about it.

So it was arranged that Yuko would come to my apartment two evenings a week. The first time, her knock on the door was so faint that I wasn't sure anyone was there. The almost-inaudible tapping came again a minute later, and I opened the door, and there she was, in her school uniform of knee-length blue skirt, white sailor blouse and red scarf. Her skin was very white. Her nose and face could have been Caucasian, but her eyes were not. The Mongolian fold at the corners of the lids was pronounced, the upper lids were full, almost puffy, and her lashes pointed down instead of out: all the Oriental characteristics. And her hair was that smooth, glossy black you see only on Japanese and Chinese. She looked as if she had been polished. Her clothes, her hair, her skin, all had that immaculate shiny look. I also remember that she was blushing. I'd never seen Yuko before, and the likeness to my girlfriend was startling. Jun was the receptionist from the insurance company next door to the language institute. She was 10 or 12 years older, and looked exactly the way Yuko would, when Yuko reached her age. Their legs were slender, unusual for Japanese girls, and they were both several inches taller than average. This was especially unusual for Yuko, who wouldn't have achieved her full height yet. The main difference was that Yuko was thinner than Jun.

She had brought her English textbook in her briefcase, which was the same dark brown as her loafers, and almost as shiny. I asked her to get out the book, and she opened the case. She pressed the latch, and carefully pulled the top up. She took out the book and set it on the table. Her hands were very white. She set the briefcase against her chair and then she offered me her book like a gift, resting on her upturned palms.

It was the standard English text they used everywhere in Japan. I opened it to the middle and asked her to pronounce some of the English words for me, but she blushed and shook her head. I didn't insist. Instead, I spent the hour pointing to the words and pronouncing them. When she left, I told her that she should be ready to pronounce the words next time.

That was on a Monday. We'd arranged for the sessions to be on Mondays and Wednesdays, when I was most likely to be home. I forgot about the Wednesday session, and arrived half an hour late. Yuko was waiting in the hall outside my door.

"[I'm very sorry,]" I said.

"[No, not at all,]" she said, and asked whether another time would be more convenient.

We traded excuses back and forth for a while, seeing who could bow more deeply. I gave up when it became obvious that I wasn't going to win this contest. She was mortified that I was apologizing to her. I was mortified by my mistake.

I called her mother and explained that the lesson was going to run late, and Mrs. Sugimoto thanked me and asked whether anything was wrong. I said no, that my humble self had made a mistake. I hung up the phone, thinking that I was becoming Japanese. At home, I would have made some sort of excuse and saved myself the embarrassment.

Yuko had started making tea while I was on the phone, and we sat at the table and drank from our mugs for a moment. I noticed the way she handled her cup, the same way she handled her briefcase and her book, with conscious attentiveness and care -- a mindfulness about what she was doing. I wondered whether she ever dropped anything, like her keys, and thought she probably didn't.

"[Let's begin,]" I said, and put the cup aside.

She took her book from her case, just as she had on Monday, and I asked her to pronounce the vocabulary from last week. She shook her head.

"[You have to help me,]" I said. "[I can't tell how much you know unless you do as I say.]"

She looked at the table.

"[Perhaps you'd better go home,]" I said, as gently as I could. "[I'll tell your mother there's no charge. I can't tutor you.]"

Her head snapped up and she looked right into my eyes. Her eyes filled with tears.

"[Will you read to me now?]"

She nodded, and began to read. Her pronunciation was atrocious, heavily accented and filled with the vowels the Japanese shove into English words wherever there are more consonants in succession than there would be in their native language.

After a minute or two I said, "[That's enough. Now I want you to translate this.]" I took a copy of The Old Man and the Sea from my bookshelf and handed it to her, and gave her a pen and a sheet of paper. "[Do the first three pages.]"

When she was finished, I read it. The translation was perfect, though too literal. At her age, most students hadn't had much English. She was an exception.

I gave her the Yomiuri Shimbun and switched to speaking English. "Now translate anything on the front page to English."

She chose a story about the Nixon shock. I stopped her after five minutes and compared the newspaper story to her English version. It wasn't quite as good as the translation in the other direction had been, but that was normal.

"Very good," I said. "Very very good. Both translations. Most of my advanced students aren't this good."

She beamed. Her teeth were even and white in her round face. Her hair, that perfect glossy black with blue highlights, framed her face; the two sides met under her chin. Her eyes were almost slits when she smiled. She was the expression of joy, and I thought that if only she weren't so shy some gentle Japanese boy would fall in love with her.

"We need to work on your pronunciation, though," I said. "It isn't very good."

The smile vanished. I felt as if I'd stepped on a flower. "Don't worry," I said. "You're obviously very smart. All you need is practice. Will you practice for me?"

She nodded.

"Good. I'll bring some tapes from the Institute and you can borrow them. Do you have a tape recorder?"

She nodded again.

"You can play the tapes and repeat what's on them, and then make a recording and listen to yourself. In the meantime, we're going to practice speaking English. No more Japanese in this room. Understand?"

She nodded, but her eyes were wide and her shoulders were up almost to her ears.

We talked for the rest of the hour. She traded her "r"s and "l"s, the way most Japanese do, and of course there were the surplus vowels, but I didn't correct her. She needed confidence first. My eyes were beginning to close, and I hadn't eaten, or I would have given her more than the hour her mother was paying for. She reached in her briefcase and pulled out the money.

"That's too much," I said. "I was late. I'm only going to charge you half for this session."

She bowed, and left. I found the rest of the money in my mailbox in the morning. Short of putting it in her parents' mailbox, there wasn't much I could do, so I took it.

I hadn't come to Japan to be so busy. When I wasn't practicing aikido, I was in the classroom. When I wasn't in the classroom, I was generally either on the subway, or sleeping. I was exhausted, and I didn't have much time with Jun. I would have liked to drop in at her office and eat lunch with her in the break room, but she wouldn't let me. She was keeping our relationship secret. Mores hadn't loosened yet, and Japanese who dated gaijin were criticized. We always had to meet away from her office, and she rarely let me come by the apartment she shared with another girl near Shinjuku. I loved her, but she didn't understand that. I wanted to spend more time with her, but she didn't think that was necessary. It would only make me more tired, she claimed. I asked her to move in with me, so we could be together, but she refused. Once or twice a week we went to a movie or a restaurant, or occasionally to a "love hotel" for a few hours of sex. Once every month or so she would spend the night at my apartment, but she wasn't giving anything of herself, and she wouldn't let me give anything of myself.

Things went on this way, and I was spending almost as much time with Yuko as with Jun, because the lessons tended to run for an extra half hour. Yuko was delightful -- she studied hard, she was calm and engaged in her effort to perfect her English. She relaxed with time, and I saw her smile and heard her laugh more often. We spent the lessons talking, so she could practice her conversation and pronunciation. I always assigned homework, mostly translations, and she would bring it with her and I would correct it, but we didn't spend much time on it. We worked mostly on conversation. Her pronunciation, her speed, and her use of colloquialisms improved.

She was one of those girls, commoner in the West than in Japan, who seems not quite connected to the things and people around her. She moved through her world alone, studying it, and dreaming about what might be, and wondering who she could become. This was her great problem, because everything in Japan is based on fitting into the group. She was ostracized at school, for this solitude and for her height and gangliness. Her best friend was her mother. What Yuko needed was praise, and I complimented her English and her intelligence and beauty and manners. She was so appealing that I wanted her to be happy. She tried so hard, and seemed so wistful.

She started doing little things for me -- bringing me gifts, the way her mother had. And she would clean the little kitchen area of my apartment, or make the bed. I gave up trying to stop her, and started doing these things myself before she came over.

On Valentine's day she gave me chocolates. I knew what this might mean, especially since they were the expensive kind of chocolate, but I chose to interpret them as "polite" chocolates instead of "real" chocolates. On White Day, I gave her chocolates in return. In between, on Girl's Day, she brought her dolls with her, and showed them to me. It wasn't a tutoring day, and she dropped by unannounced. She asked me to tutor her three times a week. I made an excuse. She asked again the next Monday, and I made another excuse. After the third attempt, she stopped asking, but sometimes she looked at me, just looked, and I knew that she wanted to ask again.

She had begun to confide in me. She didn't want to marry a Japanese man, because she saw how distant her father was, and how little time he spent with her mother. She said, without saying it directly, that she wanted a marriage with affection, and tenderness, and romance; she wanted a man who would show his love and appreciation, and give her compliments and presents. She wanted to sleep in the same bed with her husband: she thought the Japanese custom of separate beds for man and woman was "very sad". She would sit next to me at the table, saying these things, in her voice that lacked the high-pitched breathiness so many Japanese women affected, with her toes pointing toward each other and almost touching, one hand in her lap, palm up, with the fingers curled. She would look at the table as she talked.

Sundays were my only days off. Sometimes I spent them with Jun, but she often went out of town on weekends to visit her parents in Osaka. I was home one Thursday evening when I heard a familiar knocking on the door, and recognized it as Yuko's. I was surprised, because she only came for tutoring -- she had read my excuses correctly, and knew that those were the only days I wanted to see her. She gave me a handwritten invitation to go to the beach with her family on Sunday.

Jun planned to visit her parents that weekend, so I said I'd be glad to.

"Thank you." She made no move to leave.

"Is there something else?"

She made a tentative gesture, and I invited her in. I put a kettle on the stove. There was scarcely room to turn around in that apartment, it was so small, but it seemed odd when I did turn, because I bumped into her. She didn't need to stand so close. She scurried backwards and blushed and sat at the table. I took mugs from the cabinet and put them on the table. When the water boiled, I used the coffee press. Then I poured two cups.

"What is that called?"

"It's a coffee press." I showed her how it worked.

"I've never seen this before."

"Yes. I like them. I had a hard time finding one."

She took a sip of her coffee. "Good."

"Thank you." I waited, without drinking. I was tired, and I wanted her to go. "Do you have a question about your lesson?"

"Yes. I forget what you wanted -- "

"Forgot," I corrected her.

"Oh. Sorry. Yes. I forgot what you wanted me to do."

This was nonsense; we did the same things every time. "Don't worry. The usual. Turn in your translation and then we'll talk. Work on your pronunciation."

She bobbed her head and looked at the table. She set down her cup, with her unvarying careful attentiveness.

"Is there anything else?"

She shook her head no.

"It's nice to see you," I said, "but I need to sleep. I'm very tired. You'll -- "

She drew back from the table, sitting down in a slouch, a cringing expression on her face. I had forgotten, and spoken as an American, without tact. I had neglected to use the polite formulas, and I had hurt her. I put my hand on hers, and she drew it away, abruptly. A moment later she put it back on the table, an inch from mine.

"I'm sorry," I said. "My fault. Please stay as long as you like. That was very rude. I like your company."

She started talking about school then, and how cruel the girls were to her, and saying that she had always wanted to live in the United States, but she'd never dared speak about this because everyone would criticize her. Only her mother understood, and encouraged her dream of living in the U.S.

"But you're Japanese," I said. "It would be very hard for you there."

"Is it hard for you? Here? Is Japan hard for you?"

"Yes, but I've always wanted to live in Japan." I laughed. "I just realized: I'm an American who wants to live in Japan, and you're a Japanese who wants to live in America."

She giggled, covering her mouth with her hand. When we'd stopped laughing she said, "I love America. Free. I want to be free."

"Yes," I agreed. "No freedom in Japan."

"Yes," she said.

We were silent a long time. Finally, she spoke. "Do you have a girlfriend?"

She'd asked this before, but I'd always dodged the question. "Sort of, but we only see each other once or twice a week. We're very busy."

"Is she nice?"

I said "Yes," though it wasn't strictly true.

"Are you in love with her?"


"Oh." She looked at her coffee cup. "What is her name?"


"What does she do?"

"She's a receptionist."

"What is a -- What is that word?"

I explained.

"What is she like?"

"She's tall. About your height. She looks a lot like you."

"You like that?"

"Yes. She's very pretty. So are you. You look like sisters."

"Thank you." She looked pleased.

"You are, you know. You're very pretty."

"In school the girls say I'm too tall."

"Don't listen to them. In the United States, all the boys would want to date you. You're beautiful, and very grown up, and very nice."

"Thank you, Scott-san. Thank you very much."

I was having a very hard time not yawning, so I stood and went to the sink and dumped out my cup, and while I had my back turned to her, I yawned silently. When I sat down at the table, she was brushing a knuckle under one eye, then the other. I pretended not to notice.

"Do you think I'm smart?" she asked.

"Yes. Very smart."

"Am I a good student?"

"Yes. Very good."

"I want to be better. What do you want me to do?"

"Don't worry about it," I said. "There's plenty of time. Just do your best." I put my hand on hers, and this time she didn't pull it away.

"Thank you, Scott-san. You are very patient and kind to me."

I started to correct her English, then said, "Not at all. I'm proud of you." I waited. "Is there anything else?"

"No. I will go now," she said.

"See you Sunday morning."

"Yes." She smiled her high-wattage smile again, her eyes looking like horizontal lines, her face bright.

Sunday morning the alarm woke me early, and I remembered the beach, and groaned. Why had I agreed to this ridiculous trip, on my day off? I would rather have shopped for food, or read a book, or simply done nothing. But I'd said I would go, and now I had to. I hurried down to the corner and bought sunscreen and a pair of swimming trunks, the biggest they had. They weren't quite large enough, but I was used to that by now. You learn to live with these things -- hitting your head on doorways, pulling the sheets loose at the bottom of the bed so your feet can stick out, always having to shuffle along in the tiny slippers they give you at public places, in lieu of the shoes you leave at the door. The shoes are worst. I made a mental note to write my parents and have them send me a new pair of dress shoes. Mine were wearing out, and I'd never be able to replace them in Japan. I'd never find a pair that was long enough.

I packed a bag with a towel and zoris and the trunks, put on a baseball cap, and walked down the block. Mrs. Sugimoto answered the door and bowed. She turned sideways and held her arm out, indicating the interior of the house and inviting me in.

"[Very beautiful house,]" I said, kicking off my shoes.

"[Oh, no, not at all. Very small. Not like your house in America, I'm sure.]"

Mr. Sugimoto was standing in the door of the dining room, and bowed. We sat at the table and Mrs. Sugimoto poured tea for the four of us and we talked. I wondered how long it would be before we left, and how long before we got back. Mr. Sugimoto asked me how I liked Japan, and I told him that I enjoyed the place and the people, and we talked about my aikido, and teaching English.

"[Is there anything you miss about America?]"

"[Clothes the right size. Potato salad. Apple pie. My mother's homemade ice cream. Banana cake. Football. Movies in English. American TV. My friends.]" There was more, but why beat him over the head? I stopped, although I could have gone on for hours. What I missed most was being able to refer to simple things that everyone took for granted, and they would understand all the context and implications. Even things like politics, and the assumptions people made about it. Or being able to tell a joke and get a laugh.

"[Your Japanese is very good,]" he said. "[Have you been in Japan long?]"

"[Only two years. My college degree was in Japanese language and history.]"

Then Mrs. Sugimoto leaped in with the subject that interested her: Yuko's progress in English. "[Is Yuko studying? Is she working hard?]"

"[Your daughter is a very smart girl,]" I said. "[Very smart indeed. Her English is extremely good. She's better than most of my advanced students.]"

"[No. Not Yuko.]"

"[Yes. How long have you been studying English?]" I was speaking to Yuko, but her mother answered for her.

"[She started when she was four years old.]"

Mr. Sugimoto asked whether I would like to drive, and I said no. "[I've never driven on the left,]" I said. "[I'm afraid I would wreck your car.]"

We all piled in and he drove us to the beach. The way they acted when we got there was typically Japanese: everything had to be done according to the correct scheme. They have formulas for everything, and in their heads they had the going-to-the-beach rules. We had to set up the umbrellas (one for the Sugimotos, and one for Yuko and me), with the chairs and the towels neatly arranged just so. Even though it was cloudy, Mr. and Mrs. Sugimoto sat under their umbrellas. Yuko asked me to oil her up -- the first words she'd spoken all morning -- and I noticed that her face and hands were not the pure ivory they had been in winter. The rest of her body had browned, too, though not as much; she had a slight tan. Her bikini was briefer than the bathing suits the other girls on the beach were wearing. Her skin was flawless, the nape of her neck inviting and vulnerable.

We sat in our chairs and she pulled a book out of her beach bag and started to read A Farewell to Arms.

"Do you like Hemingway?" I asked.

She nodded.

"Which book is your favorite?"

"The Old Man and the Sea."


"It's very sad."

"You like it because it's sad?"


After an hour or so, her father blew up a big red-and-white ball, and we stood in a square and tossed it around for a while. Then he deflated it and put it back in the bag.

Next on the agenda was lunch. They brought out those lacquered lunchboxes. The food was beautifully arranged, and the boxes were perfectly jointed and polished and partitioned. Delicious little bits of vegetable and fish in the compartments. I don't remember what we drank, but the food was exquisite: a succession of delicate tastes and textures. As always, there wasn't enough. I was still hungry when I finished eating.

I suggested that we build a sand castle. Yuko and I started, but her parents stayed in their chairs; such an activity was beneath the dignity of adults. Yuko smiled as we worked. I did the heavy lifting, and she shaped the sand.

"Sunburn," I said, and pointed at her skin, which was showing a faint blush of pink on the top of her shoulders.

I oiled her up again, and we moved under the umbrella, leaving the sand castle unfinished. It was incredibly hot. All the clouds had burned off. I wondered how long we would be there before we headed back to town. Traffic would probably be heavy, and I wouldn't get back until late. My day off was shot.

Yuko put her book back in her bag. Her hand brushed mine on its way down, then again on its way up. I started to move my chair, thinking that we were too close together, until I realized that we weren't, and that the contact had been intentional.

I moved my towel away and lay down on it with my cap over my eyes, irritated because she'd been touching me, and fell asleep. I woke with her hands on my legs. She was putting on more oil.

"Sunburn," she said.

I hadn't been asleep long. The sun was in the same place, and my legs weren't pink.

"[I think I'll go for a swim,]" I said. Her parents looked surprised that I would consider such a thing. Yuko simply sat as she was, holding the bottle in her hand.

I swam far out and stayed there, bobbing up and down. Then I noticed that the land was getting farther away, and I tried to swim back, but I wasn't making any headway. Yuko watched from the beach. I was beginning to tire when she ran into the water and started swimming toward me. She reached me in minutes.

"[Follow me,]" she said. She swam parallel to the shore, instead of toward it. After a hundred yards or so, she started swimming toward the shore again. We swam side by side, making noticeable progress.

When we were back on the beach, I thanked her and asked why she had swum sideways.

"Very strong -- " she made a sweeping motion with her hand, the direction indicating something going out to sea.

"Current? Tide?"

"Yes," she said. "Very strong. You get out of it, then you can swim in to the land."

"We call that an undertow. I've never been in one before. Thank you. You probably saved my life."

"No, no. I am only a girl. You're very strong." She felt my bicep. "Very strong."

We'd come out of the water on a different part of the beach. A point of rock hid us from her parents. I started walking that direction.

"No," she said. "Stay here."

"Why? Won't your parents worry?"

"I want -- "

I waited for her to finish, then said, "What do you want?"

"[I want you to kiss me.]"

"But, Yuko, you're too young. You're my student."

"[Fourteen is not too young. Kiss me. I saved your life. Now you have to do what I say.]"

"Yuko, I can't do that."

"Yes you can. No one ever kissed me."

No one has ever kissed me, the tutor in me thought. I leaned down and kissed her. It was a shock. All that shyness, and then this! When I finally broke the kiss, I was surprised we hadn't fallen over, and the beach and the waves and the sun and air were still all around us. Everything had disappeared, and now here it was again.

"You're a very good kisser," I said. "You must have had some practice."


"Well, that was very good. Good English, beautiful, smart, a good swimmer, a good kisser. Is there anything you aren't good at?"

"I love you." She said it in English. She made a mistake she hadn't made for months, switching her "l" for an "r": "I ruv you."

"No. Yuko. I can't allow this."

"I love you. I love you. [I want to be your girlfriend.]"

"I already have a girlfriend, Yuko."

"[I will make you happy. She makes you sad.]"

"That's true, but you're too young."

"[Not in Tokyo. Twelve is old enough.]"

Now I was really shocked: she was referring to the age of consent. "But what about your parents? They pay me to teach you. I don't want to betray them."

"[My mother knows. She wants me to learn English and go to America. She hates Japan. She would be happy if I'm your girlfriend. She gives me pills.]"


"[Yes, so I won't have a baby.]"

"Birth control pills?"

"[Yes. That's the name.] Birth control."

"But they're illegal in Japan."

"[She gets them from American doctors.]"

"You're still too young."

"[This is Japan. I am old enough.]"

"What about your father?"

She shrugged. "[I don't know. He always works. If he doesn't know, he won't ask. My mother will help us hide it.]"

"Yuko, this is not going to happen. It can't happen. I'm in love with someone else."

"[Then have two girlfriends. I will talk to her.]"

"No. You're too young."

I walked away from her, around the pile of rocks, back to the umbrellas and her parents and all the beach paraphernalia, and told the Sugimotos how their daughter had saved my life. Yuko showed up later with red eyes. I don't remember the rest of the day. All I wanted was to get home.

Mr. Sugimoto parked the car in the driveway about the time the sun was setting, and I thanked them for a lovely day, and fled. I changed my clothes and called Jun.

"[Can you meet me?]" I asked. "[I need to see you.]"

She made an excuse. I pressed her to say yes. Finally I said I was coming into town, and she said, "[I can't see you any more. My parents have arranged for me to marry a boy from Osaka. They're my parents. I have to do what they say. I have to do this for them. I don't want to hurt them.]"

"[Now we really have to talk. I'm coming in.]"

I took the train and subway, and called her from the all-night coffee shop across the street from her apartment, but she didn't answer. I rang the buzzer outside her building, but she didn't answer that, either. Finally someone came out and I slipped inside. I ran up the stairs three at a time and knocked on her door. No answer. After ten minutes of knocking, her roommmate opened the door a crack, with the chain still on so I couldn't barge in.

"[Jun isn't here.]"

"[Yes she is. I know she is. I have to talk to her.]"

"[No. Jun isn't here. Go away.]"

"[When will she be home?]"

But she'd closed the door. There was no answer, no matter how long I knocked. I went back to the coffee shop and watched all night. In the morning, a cab pulled up in front, and I saw Jun jump in. She was gone before I could cross the street.

Sensei was particularly rough on me in the morning. I was late and distracted and tired; I botched even the simple things I should have been able to sleepwalk through. This annoyed him, so he made me do forward rolls on a mat by myself. After twenty minutes of this I collapsed, too dizzy to stand. Then Sensei dismissed me.

I spent the hours until work in the coffee shop, nodding off, hoping to see Jun, though the chance of her coming home during the day was small. I stopped at her office on my way to work, but she wasn't at the desk. A different receptionist was on duty, and she said Jun had called in sick.

I barely made it to my first class on time. I did everything I could to involve my students in things I wouldn't have to concentrate on. I played tapes and had them repeat the sounds. I made them read out loud and translate. I had them practice on each other. It all took forever. Afterward, I headed back to Jun's, but there was no answer at her door. I needed to sleep, and I gave up.

When I got to my neighborhood stop, it was after seven o'clock. Instead of cooking, I ate soba at a noodle stand. I gobbled three bowls, and the counterman was stunned. I could see him thinking that gaijin must have very big appetites. Then I dragged myself up the stairs and put a note on the door telling Yuko that she should come right in without knocking. I didn't even remove my shoes before I collapsed on the bed.

When I woke up Yuko was kneeling next to me.

"If you're sleepy, I can leave," she said.

"No." I sat up and rested my head in my hands.

"Something is wrong," she said.


"Yes. Something is wrong. Are you ill?"


She held my hand. "I will help you."

I went to the counter to make coffee, and waited while it brewed. I was looking out the window while Yuko questioned me. Finally I admitted that Jun had dumped me.

"Come here," she said, and I walked over to her. She tugged my hand. "Sit down."

My bed was on the floor and she was sitting on it, almost the same as sitting on her heels. Her knees were higher than her rear end, and her white cotton panties showed under her school uniform, up to the horizontal seam at the top of the crotch panel. I thought my legs would buckle; it had been a month since I'd had sex with Jun. I should have started the lesson, but instead I sat on the bed next to her.

"Now I am your girlfriend," she said, and kissed me.

We lay on the bed and I pulled her sailor blouse out of her skirt. She pushed my hand away and stood and took off both the skirt and blouse, hung them neatly over the back of a chair, and kicked off her shoes. I turned down the sheets. She got back in bed, in bra and panties and socks. I took the socks from her feet. I tugged the top of her panties down and she raised her hips and I pulled them off. Her pubic hair was straight, like Jun's. She sat up and reached behind herself and unsnapped her bra and tossed it on the floor. Her skin was that perfect white under her bikini line, and a pale brown everywhere else, except for the darker tan on her face and hands. Her irises were as black as her hair. She was a combination of black and brown and white, all in glorious, soft, glossy textures.

She watched as I took off my own clothes, and made a startled "ah!" when she saw my penis. I lay next to her and looked into her eyes, seeing my own reflection there. She closed her eyes and lifted her face to mine and we kissed. One of her hands was on my face; the other covered her pubis. I pulled it out of the way, and kissed her there. She gasped.

"Scott-san. Scott-san," she whimpered.

I tongued her clitoris, and a whine escaped her. Then there was nothing but the sound of her breathing. She lay motionless, flat on her back, her hands by her sides. Her wetness was the only clue to her arousal, until finally she began rocking, and making a high vowel sound, something between "oh" and "ah", rhythmically. It sped up. Then it became a single high wordless note that trailed off.

I stopped. I wiped my mouth and face and chin on the sheet and lay down next to her again. She opened her eyes and turned her head and looked at me for a moment, and then closed her eyes again. She touched my face with her hand. "Scott-san," she murmured.

I put her hand on my erection. She brushed her hand down the length of it and back up, and grasped it under the glans. She moved down the bed until her face was directly in front of it. I lay on my back. She licked the bottom of my penis, along the ridge.

"In your mouth," I said.

She obeyed.

"Up and down."

She began moving her head up and down.

"Make it wet," I commanded. "Plenty of saliva."

Soon it glistened.

"Stop." Her teeth were scraping me.

She stopped. I raised her head until her lips were around the glans, exposing the rest of the penis. I stroked, up and down.

"Now you do it," I said.

She wrapped her hand around my penis and began stroking up and down. I was trying to last, but she was too beautiful. She looked too much like Jun, and that excited me.

She gagged and as she was coughing onto the sheet, the last spurt went in the air and landed on my stomach.

"[Scott-san, did I do it wrong?]" She lay next to me again, her eyes full of tears. "[I want to do it right.]"

"[No. Come here.]" I folded her in my arms. "[You were perfect. Everything you do is perfect.]"

"[I love you,]" she said. "[I want to make you happy.]"

"[I know. Don't worry.]"

I fell asleep again then, and when I woke up she was lying next to me, smiling at me. The light was dim. I checked the time on the clock.

"Shit!" She should have been home an hour ago.

"[I called my mother,]" she said.


"[It's all right. She's happy for me.]"


"[She said I could spend the night.]"

"Oh, God." I lay on my back and threw my arm over my eyes, thinking Someone throw me in the briar patch, please, just get me out of this. In a moment, I felt her lips on my penis again.

"Stop," I said.

"[Don't you like it?]"

"I like it, but get on your hands and knees."

She had no idea what I meant -- her knees were together, and I had to tell her to get down on her elbows with her head on her hands and make space for me between her legs. I positioned myself behind her. I pushed her knees further apart. She looked around her left arm at me. I guided myself in. She was very wet, but very tight. At least there was no hymen.

She made a different noise this time, more like a grunting. I didn't care whether she came. I wanted to get as deep inside her as I could, and push hard, and forget about losing Jun, and about Mrs. Sugimoto's conniving, and most of all about Yuko being so young and in love with me. Or was she? Maybe she was using me, hoping that I would take her back to the States. Haywire. Everything haywire. I stroked and I stroked, but I kept thinking about all these things, and I couldn't come, despite her tightness. Yuko was making a falsetto gasping sound at each stroke. She was rubbing herself with one hand in time with my strokes. Occasionally she would shudder.

Finally I lay on my side next to her.

She lay on her side. "[Scott-san, that -- ]" She looked at my penis, then touched it. "[It's still hard.]"

"[I didn't come. I have an idea.]" I rolled on my back. "[Come here. Get on top of me.]"


"[Put your knees on each side of my hips.]" I adjusted her position when she was in place. "[Now hold it and put yourself on it.]"

She smiled.

I helped her guide the penis in. "[You're boss now,]" I said. "[Have you ever ridden a horse?]"


"[I'm going to teach you. Raise up... Good. Now lower yourself. That's right.]" I put my hands on her hips and lifted and lowered her. "[Lean forward. Put your hands on my chest.]"

She laughed. "Secretariat," she said, and laughed again. "[Where are your reins, horse? Run!]" She smiled down at me.

I raised my head and took a nipple between my lips and she gasped.

"[Keep going,]" I said.

She seemed to be having trouble concentrating. Her rhythm kept changing. When I stopped sucking her nipples she leaned down and put her arms around my neck and pressed her cheek against mine. Her breath was in my ear. She began to slam her hips up and down on me and then she stopped and squeezed my neck hard and made the high vowel note again, right in my ear. I kissed her on the cheek.

"Are you okay?"

She nodded her head, her hair rubbing against my cheek and getting in my eyes.

I pressed her away from me until she was sitting almost straight up. Her face was flushed, her eyes closed. She put her hands behind her and leaned back on them. I held her hips and pressed in and out of her, watching her face, and the appearance and disappearance of my penis, in alternation. Her head rolled back. I could see her chin, and her ears, and her hair, but not her face.

"[J -- Yuko, Yuko, are you all right?]"

"Ah," she said. "Ah." Her head was all the way back.

"[Should I stop? Am I hurting you?]"

I was about to speak again when she said, "[No.]"

I continued to thrust. "[What are you feeling?]"

"[You -- I -- ]" She shook her head, her face still pointed straight up at the ceiling so I couldn't see it. "[This -- ]". She sighed. "Scott, Scott, Scott," she chanted, over and over.

Then I finally came, relieved that I could stop.

She leaned forward and put her arms on either side of my chest and lowered her torso against me, her breasts touching my chest, while she raised her hips as carefully and slowly as an old lady getting out of bed, and pressed with one foot to tilt herself and roll aside and fall on the mattress next to me like a dead thing. I held her in my arms, and felt her breath against my neck, and we slept again. I woke from a dream about Jun with her mouth on my penis.

"[That feels good,]" I said.

She looked up at me. "[I want to do everything with you. I want you to do everything you want. Is there anything we haven't done yet?]"

"[Only one thing,]" I said. "[You're not ready for it.]"

"[I am. I am. I'm a big girl, your big girl, and I want to show you.]" She was fondling my penis with her hand. Experimentally, she started licking my balls. "[Is it too soon?]" she asked.

"Look at it. You tell me."

"[It looks big.]"

"[It's ready,]" I said. "[Lie flat on your stomach.]" I went to the cabinet and got the lubricant Jun liked, and spread it in Yuko's ass. I inserted two fingers and pressed out against the ring, trying to loosen her. She pulled the cheeks apart and I pressed my penis home. She was relaxed, and I popped right in, then pressed forward in stages.

"Now I'm going to go in and out," I said. "I'm going to go slow, but if I hurt you, say so and I'll take it out." I pulled back, and she gasped.

"[Slow,]" she said. "[Very slow.]"

I went as slowly as I could. I could learn to enjoy this, I thought.

She said I could speed up. She was loosening a bit.

After a while, she began to make noises of pleasure. When I stopped she said, "[Scott-san, it was strange, but I liked it. It started to feel good. Did it feel good to you?]"

"[Yes, Yuko, it felt very good, but now I want something else. Lie on your back.]"

We made love in the missionary position then, and I kissed her face and neck and breasts. Her hands, her entire body, trembled, and she lay with her knees up, her feet pressed flat against the bed, at first motionless, then heaving back at me until she'd come. Then I let go and came for the last time.

I stayed on my arms for a minute, looking down at her face and thinking that I was in danger. She pressed her palms against my cheeks and looked at me. I was still inside her. I'm always uncomfortable when Japanese look right in my eyes, because their irises are black and their look is too strong. Hers were even more that way in the dim light. Her hands pressed lightly on my face, and her voice shook. "[Scott-san, this is like heaven, like the Amida Buddha's Western Paradise. I want to do this every day with you,]" she said. "[I will live here and take care of you, and you can train me. I love you. I want to take care of you. I want to make you happy.]"

I sat on the edge of the bed and set the alarm clock. "Forgive me," I said under my breath.

In the morning I fed her breakfast. She insisted that I walk to school with her, but I knew that the ostracism she suffered would be worse if someone saw her with me, so I said goodbye to her two blocks from the school. I refused to kiss her, because someone might see. She walked on, looking back at me and smiling, until finally we lost sight of each other around the corner of a building.

I went back to my apartment and packed my clothes, passport, money and bankbooks. Everything else could stay. I wrote three letters. The first was to my landlord, saying that I was giving up the apartment, and apologizing for the lack of notice; I said my father had had a heart attack, and I had to return home immediately. The second was to my employer, saying much the same thing. The last letter was to Mrs. Sugimoto, apologizing for what I'd done with her daughter, and asking her to understand that I'd had a moment of weakness, and that an affair between a grown man and a young girl could never work, especially when the man was a gaijin. I mailed the letters and stopped at my bank and gave them instructions where to wire my money back home. The airlines were half-empty at that time of year, and there was space on the next JAL flight to L.A. I dawdled in the passenger lounge, watching Japanese game shows, until we started boarding.

I don't know how she found my parents' address. A month later, my Dad forwarded me her letter. Inside was a photograph of Yuko on the beach where we'd kissed, a broken heart drawn on her left breast.