In June of 2009, I took my first trip to Yokohama. That year, after I had moved from Isesaki to Moriya, I met up with my former co-worker (Beni-sensei) and some of her students every month to visit some place in the Kanto region that I’d never been before. I loved the travel, and they loved showing off Japan. Well, they also loved the travel. But they also seemed to love my enthusiasm for exploring Japan, and they did their best to indulge me. Because of them, my first year in Japan was possibly the best year of my life.
Yokohama is home to the largest Chinatown in Japan, and that is where my dear Isesaki ladies wanted to go that day. They wanted to go for various reasons: shopping, sight-seeing, Chinese food. We went to a Chinese restaurant and had an awesome dim sum meal, which included shark fin soup. This was something the ladies were very excited to eat because of its alleged health benefits, the most important of which (for these ladies) was skin enhancement. I tried the soup too and was largely unimpressed. Shark fin in this form has practically no taste at all. It’s meant to be a textural experience, and I thought even that was simply okay but nothing to get excited about. Everything else was pretty damn delicious, though, and that remains one of the best Chinese meals I’ve ever eaten.
After that, we commenced with the strolling and sight-seeing. For the most part, it was a very pleasant day, though the weather changed from mid-morning sun to afternoon clouds to early evening rain. The company really made it all worthwhile. The Isesaki ladies are a very jovial, entertaining bunch, and though their English levels varied, they were all exceedingly patient with me and my poor Japanese. I never asked a question that they didn’t take seriously, and they always answered to the best of their abilities. And they were very, very encouraging about my attempts to improve my Japanese skills. They always made me feel comfortable with them.
It was also a very curious day in some ways, and I have thought about it often over the past years. Most of the day is still a blur of Chinese temples and tourist-trap stores, but one event in particular has stuck with me.
I don’t know whose suggestion it was initially, but as soon as it was mentioned, they all wanted to do it.
It seems there are a lot of Chinese fortune-tellers in Yokohama’s Chinatown. Most of them are palm-readers. I don’t know how the one we chose got picked, but they were all pleased with the decision. I, as usual, just went along for the ride.
He was an old Chinese man who spoke good Japanese and no English. Beni-sensei did most of the translating for me. Like me, she was a little skeptical, but she wasn’t going to let that ruin her fun.
I don’t put any faith into fortune-telling. I’m not sure how much I believe in destiny; I’m much more of a free-will proponent. Even after all that’s happened, I like to believe that I still have some control over my life. Clearly, the whole palm-reading thing was for entertainment purposes, and the Isesaki ladies jumped into it with the gusto that I so admired.
He went through them each one by one. He told Akiko that she had “American hands” and should live abroad, which had always been something she wanted to do. He told Ayako that she got married at the right age, but that she should be nicer to her husband, which even made her laugh. He told her that her waiting would be over soon and that she would have a little son. He told Motomi that she was a good daughter and that she would meet a good man who would love her for her and not her family’s money. He told Beni-sensei that she was very sensitive and child-like and sometimes too emotional.
And then he looked at my hand. He said that I was meant to be in Japan, that I had “Japanese hands,” that it was the best place for me. He also said that I had “Cinderella hands,” that I would work hard and focus on my career until my Prince Charming arrived. He said I would never have to worry about money. He said I would have a chance to marry when I was 29, and that was the best time for me to marry. He said that I would have to endure some difficulties, but that I would be able to take a break from it when I am 32, possibly to have a child. He said I would have a daughter first.
That was all. The Isesaki ladies loved it. They said I did work hard and that I did belong in Japan. They were thrilled of the idea of me marrying (Beni-sensei hoped so much that I would marry a Japanese man so I could stay in Japan forever). They delighted in the idea that I would have a child someday. They loved it all.
They are such wonderful ladies. I miss them a great deal.
By the next spring, Ayako was pregnant, and she did have a son. I married Geordie two years later after this trip to Yokohama, when I was 29. I have a daughter. If all goes well, I will be pregnant next year when I turn 32.
I don’t know what all that means. Was he just a good guesser? Was he saying what we wanted to hear, or what he thought we wanted to hear? Ayako had been married several years and very much wanted a child, but that’s nearly universal for married Japanese women. I could have guessed that too. But then, I wasn’t interested in marriage at that time, and I had no thoughts at all of becoming a mother.
Or did he truly see something in the palms of our hands? He asked us no questions before looking at our hands. He knew nothing about us except what he saw in the lines of our skin. Did he see the truth? The future?
I don’t know. But sometimes, I wonder. I think of him saying that I would have a daughter, and I wonder. I think of him saying that I would have a good opportunity to have a child when I am 32, and I wonder.
I remember liking him. He had a good sense of humor, and he kept the readings light and easy and fun. He enjoyed himself, and why not? We enjoyed ourselves. But I remember the way he grasped my hand and sighed when he spoke of my future child, and I wonder.