#243: Time to go back to Chile - 2011-09-22

They returned to Kōbe during early morning, and soon they would be sleeping. The travel to Kyōto felt very short, even though they spent all day travelling around parks, temples and other important places. Most of their time was spent during the visit to Nanzen-ji (南禅寺), though they also visited Kiyomizu-dera (清水寺) and other temples, and also walked around the city.

On Thursday the 16th, in the morning, Eliana woke up feeling a heavy weight over her body. She tried to stand up, but she found herself wrapped in something that seemed like a very thick blanket, with many colored layers.

- " Eliana! You finally awakened! " - her grandmother Atsuko said to Eliana.

- " Grandma.... What is this thing in which I'm wrapped!? It's too heavy! "

- " That, my sweet girl, is the greatest material treasure of our family. It's a jūnihitoe (十二単衣), or "twelve-layer dress", a very elegant kimono that in ancient times was used only by Japanese Imperial Court ladies. "

Eliana became astonished during some minutes. Atsuko turned on the light, because the morning was dark, and Eliana witnessed the magnificence of the dress in which she was wrapped.

- " This... is truly a very fine, distinguished dress. It's really beautiful, I love it... but I'm not an imperial court lady. I'm just a young girl, I weigh less than 20 kilograms. I can't dress myself with such a dress. "

- " Hahaha! This jūnihitoe weighs 22 kilograms! It's heavier than you! "

- " Yes! Please take it off me! I can't move! "

- " Wait a bit, because I want us to take a photograph. Rosa is just going to be back soon from the errands I told her to do. "

Indeed, Rosa just returned from her errand. Dressed in a kimono, although just a regular one, like that of her grandmother.

- " A large man pushed me off the queue when I was about to be called! Who ever said that Japanese people were all respectful and polite!? "

- " That sounds stereotypical, Rosa. And what did you do with that man? "

- " I lifted him over my arms, and took him off the queue, leaving him over a bench. Then that guy forgot about his hurry, asked me for forgiveness, and went to the end of the queue. Then they called me. The person in the counter said that 'the return would be on April the 3rd'. "

- " Miserable bureacrats! Always with their damned protocols and formalities! It doesn't matter that Kōbe is in ruins or that people die or lose their homes! "

Rosa nodded, and then looked to Eliana. Then, the grandmother explained her why Eliana was dressed like that.

- " Why me, granny? " - Eliana protested for the last time - " Wouldn't be it better that Rosa wears this... joo-nee-hee-toh-eh, or however it's called? It would certainly fit Rosa much better than me, and she's much stronger. "

- " But Rosa's hair is not long enough. During Heian era, the imperial court ladies let their hair grow very long; in fact, the tail of this dress is designed to avoid dragging the hair over the ground. "

- " Hah! My hair is going to drag anyways! Well... I think you would want us to take that photograph soon, before I collapse under the weight of these twelve layers... "

At that moment, Hugo came from the second floor.

- " Did anyone said 'photos'? "


On Friday, at noon, the Martínez Gómez took the bullet train again, towards the city of Nagoya, from which they took another train to Nagano, where they arrived at dusk. A bus would take them fifty hundred meters off the house of the Mori Nishida family, at a forgotten town in the Japanese Alps.

That was an enormous house - by Japanese standards - at a plot of land that, at another place in Japan, would have costed a fortune, but that was bought at a very low price - again, by Japanese standards - because nobody wanted to live there anymore. The youth migrated to Nagano or to other larger cities as soon as they could, in order to find employment, leaving the old to their own. Many of the houses in that town hadn't shown signs of human activities since the sixties; likely, the inhabitants of more than one of those houses died there, without anyone noticing, leaving their corpses to the mercy of elements.

But the Mori Nishida family was a young one. Naoko was born when her mom, now (in 1995) 30 years old, was still in high school. Her father, a 32 years old architect, built that house to his taste, combining traditional Japanese elements with a contemporary base, at a very steep slope.

Naoko was still dressed with her high-school uniform, that was identical to the one that Rosa saw at a dream she had while travelling from Tōkyō a Ōsaka. She could only give them a welcome and make them enter the house, before going back to a very complicated homework assignment she was doing. The kids offered Naoko help in that homework, but Naoko declined.


Saturday morning was very cold, and snow fell intermittently. Then the Martínez Gómez went to the balcony, and witnessed a magnificent sight, which I'm not artistically qualified to depict. This town was indeed lost within the mountains, in a small valley. Nagano would probably be behind a hill at the other side of the town, but nobody cared about that. The kids just wanted to play with the long-haired (but not so much) Japanese girl. Between karate practices, snow statues, snow wars, chess, videogames and a short trip around the neighborhood, there was no way they could get bored.

They stayed there until Tuesday morning. Naoko knew that she wouldn't be able to see them again in a long time, and bursted into tears when she greeted them good-bye. That was the first time in ten years that this girl, not given into sentimentalisms, cried like that. She told them that she wanted to travel to Chile, and that she would keep correspondence with the Martínez Gómez.

The Martínez Gómez stayed a couple days more in Kōbe with the grandparents, mainly doing diverse errands. So, soon the 24th of February came. They all were already awake in the early morning, already packed for the trip back to Chile. There was just one thing left to do.

- " お誕生日おめでとう, Rosa! " - Atsuko wished her while she arrived with a cake, of the same color Rosa saw in another dream..

- " Omedetō! " - they all added, simultaneously.

Then, they sang Rosa the happy birthday song (in Spanish), and asked Rosa to ask for a wish. Rosa's words took everyone off-guard:

- " I wish... I wish we could stay here forever! "


- " NOOOOOOOOOO! " - Hugo yelled, appalled by the idea.

- " Yes, Hugo, I understand. You're dying for going back to Chile, you miss Carola, I know. Besides, we wouldn't be able to stay here even if we wished. It was just a stupid, egoistical illusion. Forgive me! "

Actually, only Hugo was in stark disagreement with the idea of staying in Japan. Even Clara, the only one there besides grandfather Carlos that didn't have any Japanese blood, felt tempted with the idea of living in a developed country, which in theory wouldn't have any trouble recovering from the earthquake that destroyed most of that city, and saying good-bye not just to that miserly, godforsaken town in the central coast of Chile, but also to the poverty to which this family seemed condemned.

- " Also, " - Juan added, while his mother shared the cake - " the only one of us who is fluent in Japanese is Rosa. I already told you that I just remember terms used in Karate. Besides, the cultural change would affect the kids too much, they would have to get used to the Japanese education and customs. I don't know if they could do it. "

- " You're right, Dad. " - Eliana replied. - " Maybe I wouldn't have as much trouble adapting as my brothers. I already learned many phrases in Japanese, but I realize it would be very difficult. We were already raised in Chile, we're Chileans, we just can't change our way of being so suddenly. Besides, if Japan is so advanced, it clearly must have a different educational system, I think we all would need to start at least one or two years behind so we can get to the level of our Japanese classmates. "

- " Yes. I'm also worried by the issue of finding a job here, in Japan. I would need to get a working visa, and even then I would be able to stay here only temporarily... "

- " But son! " - Atsuko exclaimed - " You don't need a working visa! You're a nisei (二世), you can get a "Child of Japanese National" visa and establish yourself here! You're in my Koseki (as a Chilean, though, because we intended to stay in Chile before the Coup d'Etat)! You could even become a Japanese citizen too! Your brother Miguel is a Japanese citizen! You wouldn't have any trouble doing that! "

- " I don't know, Mom. I don't know if I could be able to adapt myself to life and work in Japan. Miguel was just a young teen when you came from Chile. And I had to stay there. It's been 21 years, I already made myself a life there in Chile. No, Mom, I wouldn't be able to do it. "

And so, Juan took his luggage and what was left from his slice of cake, and left the house.

- " We already had this chat, kids. " - Carlos said, downcast. - " Ten years earlier, we gave Juan a copy of the Koseki and other documents he needed. We even had a very cozy house so you all could live. But he never wanted to do the necessary proceedings in order to get the visa. He preferred to stay in Chile... "

- " That's right, don Carlos. I remember it as it was yesterday. " - Clara replied, with a disappointed look on her face.

Soon, the other members of the family left that house. It was five o'clock in the morning, and Atsuko accompanied them to the bus stop. At a quarter past six, they would take the first train from Ōsaka, towards Narita airport, using the last available minutes of the Japan Rail Pass.

Before saying good-bye, Eliana asked the following question to her grandmother:

- " Granny... why when you leave the house you wear that gray wig? "

- " Oh, Eliana... well, I don't like to show off this, but I suppose you've already noticed, that I don't quite look like a 56 years old woman. "

- " Well, yeah, that's right. You look much younger. "

- " Well so, my physical attractiveness has already given me a lot of trouble. I've broken far too many hearts, even from men much younger, thanks to that. Sometimes I defended myself, other times Carlos stood for me, but always someone becomes hurt (and it's not us). So I decided to use this week, to look more 'like and old woman'. "

- " So much, granny? Although, now that you said so, I've already received a lot of compliments and unwanted attention thanks to my hair, even as I'm an ugly little girl, short and skinny like stick. Rosa gets a lot of compliments too, but that's understandable, she's very cute. But compliments to me!? Horror! "

- " You're not ugly, Eliana. And, particularly here in Japan, men love young, short, delicate-figured girls. "

- " Oh, I've already noticed. "