Sarah Hozumi

© Copyright 2021 by Sarah Hozumi

Photo of the skytreeby the author.
                                                Photo by the author.

Though I’d arranged the time and place, I still found myself hiding in a boutique near the train station when he showed up. He was in a nice shirt with dark pants – a slim figure amid the crowd of people filtering through the station’s entrance. I could see him from the boutique’s window as he sat down on a bench nearby in the humid summer heat, resolutely scanning the crowds for me.


We had met the previous week when his friends got together with mine for dinner. I’ve often wondered how anyone could possibly know they’ve found “the one.” Seeing him sheepishly arrive at the dinner table twenty minutes late with his friends, my knee-jerk reaction was to think, “That one. Right there.” I played no conscious part in the decision. 

I’d had a string of downright bad luck with men, and before meeting Hiro, I’d only wanted a boyfriend and a simple romance. It didn’t have to be long-term – marriage was far from my mind – just something slightly normal and commonplace. A nice, quiet little relationship. I always figured I’d be someone who either never got married or would marry late in life, and that was fine by me. I just wanted a boyfriend.  

Eye contact with Hiro that fateful night had blown everything out of the water for me. With my entire being yelling at me that he was “the one”, I practically shoved my friends aside to get his contact information that night.  

We’d spent about a week texting each other, my checking my phone a bit too religiously as I had prayed for a reply from him. Finally, right as I had been texting him to invite him out on a date, he had invited me.  

I didn’t even care where we went, but I’d always wanted to go to Tokyo Skyree, an engineering marvel in the land of earthquakes. I’d seen it over the past year being built from the train window while riding the Japan Rail Joban Line to and from Tokyo, and I was curious. Choosing such an impressive monument was also a risk, however; if the date ended badly, I’d always look at Skytree and remember the heartbreak.  

I knew he was my soul mate, yet there I was in a boutique selling clothing with a hint of Japanese tradition to them at the foot of Skytree, hiding. Nerves were getting the better of me. What if I was wrong? What if every atom I possessed had completely misread Hiro? I wasn’t sure I could handle more pain. Things ending poorly with a man always felt like falling on a sword. For weeks, sometimes months, I’d nurse the wound, believing it would never heal.  Any time someone asked me to meet someone new, it felt like they were asking me to pick myself up and find another sword to fall onto.  This didn’t feel any different, even with my instincts driving me to Hiro.  

Maybe one minute had passed since Hiro had sat on the edge of the bench, waiting for me. He checked his phone for the time, I imagined, and a part of me wondered for how long he would actually wait there for me. What would be his breaking point? I half pictured myself making him wait just to see, but the majority of my mind was already forcing my legs into action, pushing myself out the door of the boutique. No, my mind said to my panicked soul, you’re going to face him.      

Japan is generally not the land of hugging, especially in public, so when Hiro saw me, he shot off the bench and nodded awkwardly at me with a shy smile. I smiled back and returned the awkward nod. If I can do one thing well, it’s being awkward. I feel like I have a gift for being painfully awkward. I’m the kind of awkward where people find excuses to leave my presence early. Nearly every day I wish I could be the charmful kind of awkward the general public so seems to enjoy. That doesn’t seem to be in the cards for me, though. Thus, to me, it felt like a waiting game with Hiro. For how long would he tolerate my painful awkwardness before he, too, would find an excuse to go home early?  

Tokyo Skytree was built to help Japan switch over to digital terrestrial broadcasting. At over 600 meters tall, it’s the tallest broadcast tower in the world. At night, the tower is usually lit up with either light blue LED lights or purple, and during my long commutes to work, I used to love guessing what color it would be before seeing it on the horizon since I have a horrible memory and could rarely remember the previous day’s color.  

Skytree had recently opened as Hiro and I met up for our first date, meaning an hour’s wait just to buy tickets. I wanted to ask him anything I could think of, but I’d been researching about dates and learned men don’t like being bombarded with questions. I tried to weave questions into our conversation while answering some of his as the line slowly snaked toward the ticket counter.  

There are four elevators that can take a group of people extraordinarily quickly to what is called the Tembo Deck, 350 meters off the ground. Each elevator is themed around a season, and I think we ended up getting the one for summer. Glowing lights showing images of trees and fireworks soothed the panic I felt that the elevator might plunge us all to our deaths at any moment. If you look up, you get to enjoy the view of the elevator hurtling you upward through the glass window. And then, the elevator seems to open up to glass windows to make you truly feel like you’re now a superhero off to save the world from high-flying villains.  

Hiro happens to be scared of heights, as am I, but we managed to pick our way off the elevator and meander around the throngs of people all angling to see Tokyo from above.  

Since Japan is prone to devastating earthquakes, most of the nation, and indeed Tokyo, is flat. This meant on a clear day, you can easily spot Mt. Fuji from the tower. I had fun spotting Tokyo Disneyland, too. Hiro has a gift for directions, and he gave me a nice guided tour of what would have otherwise been a sea of buildings.  

Most tourists to Skytree will go up to the Tembo Deck, wander around for maybe half an hour and then either pay extra to reach the upper tier or take the elevator back down.  

We, however, stayed on the Tembo Deck for hours. I wanted to see the sunset. Hiro didn’t complain as he leaned against the rail beside me, our hands never quite touching as we talked. He taught me a bit of Japanese like the word for “peninsula” as we found one around Tokyo Bay. I also learned the word for “architecture” while we gave sometimes scathing reviews of some of the buildings in Tokyo.  

I’ve found many major cities in the world seem to enjoy uniformity in their designs for buildings. Paris, for example, will forever be beautiful for its unique architecture that can be found throughout the city. London seems to have its own way of blending old and new, while Wellington in New Zealand has created a symphony of cobblestone sidewalks and charming architecture.  

Then there’s Tokyo. I love Tokyo for its never-ending discoveries, but it’s hard to love it on the whole for its architecture. To me, it feels like they tear down weary buildings and then, without a second thought to surrounding structures, put up whatever happens to be the fashion of that time. To say Tokyo is haphazard with its architecture would be an understatement. I suppose that in itself is a kind of aesthetic, but to me it just seems careless. So many cities in the world are probably driving architects insane with their cohesion rules, but Tokyo is off in its own corner throwing in the towel.  

Just as the sun began to set, we paid extra to take another elevator up to the second tier – the Tembo Galleria. At 450 meters in the air, I swear I could see the curvature of the earth as stars began to fight against Tokyo’s light pollution to make an appearance in the sky.  

Hiro leaned a bit closer to me on the railings as I stayed in a spot showing us a view of Tokyo Tower, the older sibling of Skytree. I asked him about books, and he mentioned he had loved The Catcher in the Rye. I tried to sound nonchalant when I said I loved that book, too. Of all the reading assignments given to me in high school, I’m most grateful for that one.  

We found the classic gimmick so many tall structures seem to enjoy installing of glass flooring that offers you a magnificent view of just how long you’d have to contemplate your life’s choices before hitting the pavement below should you fall. Hiro didn’t want to go anywhere near it, but I took the excuse to touch him by pushing him onto the flooring. He staggered around the thick glass for a few moments with a weak smile before retreating to the edges while I knelt down to get a better view of the flecks of moving dust far below that, upon closer inspection, turned out to be cars.  

The stars were still bravely fighting the light pollution when we took the elevator down to a hallway that, naturally, funnels you out to a gift shop. I couldn’t begin to understand Hiro. For hours he had stood next to me, often saying nothing at all, giving no indication whether he was even happy to be there. I would often steal glances at his face and saw something akin to a polite smile, but nothing more. Did he just want to go home? He said nothing. The only time he had lit up on the tower was when I had suggested a photo with him.  

I, on the other hand, never wanted the date to end. If we could have set up a tent on the Tembo Deck, I would’ve. It was another bold move, but I bought a cell phone strap of the tower at the gift shop as a way to remember the night. If things ended badly with Hiro, at least it was small enough that I could throw it out. I could survive him, I thought as we walked outside. I could find it within me to somehow survive him if it didn’t work out. 

What do you want to do?” I asked. We checked our cell phones to find it was 8 p.m. To me, the night was young. Did Hiro just want to go home?  

What would you like to do?” he said with his usual polite smile.  

Thanks to his tour of Skytree’s surroundings, I now knew Hiro had an excellent sense of direction. I wanted to see just how much he knew.  

I want to go somewhere with a lot of trees,” I said. “Somewhere beautiful.”  

Hiro stopped our aimless walking long enough to search through his phone’s map. I stood there waiting for him to bid me a good night and head to the variety of train stations near Skytree, but a few minutes of silence later, he simply said, “I found one.”  

We rode a couple of Tokyo Metro trains until we reached Hibiya Station.  

Hibiya Park is a little breath of nature amid the concrete surroundings of office buildings in the heart of Tokyo. There’s a beautiful fountain display, some nice paths I suspect many worn out office workers like to enjoy on particularly hard days at work, and tucked in the back, a pond with a crane acting as a fountain in the middle.  

Public displays of affection aren’t well tolerated in Japan. While you might catch teenagers or those on the fringes of society actively ignoring the unspoken social rule, the majority of people here won’t go beyond holding hands when surrounded by others. I wanted to find somewhere quiet and secluded to see what Hiro would do. My hopes were a hug, maybe even a kiss. Away from prying eyes, would Hiro continue his polite gaze and respectful distance from me?  

We were completely alone when we found the pond, and I led us to a slab of stone jutting out into the water. I sat down to seemingly enjoy the view, and Hiro sat beside me. We walked more, but I could barely concentrate on the conversation. The corners of my eyes were glued to his hands. Was it my imagination in the darkness, or was he slowly moving closer to me? Was his hand actually reaching out to mine, which I had deliberately put there in the middle of the gap between us?  

Although it was 9 p.m. by that point, lights were still on in the office towers we could see across the pond. We both lamented the state of Japanese office culture, which favors your devotion to your job over all else. I can’t tell you how many TV dramas I’ve seen that have glorified the idea of bending over backwards for your job. I can’t tell you how few I’ve seen that speak of family above all else.  

Hiro talked about his time going to a high school in New Zealand. He spent two years in the Auckland area staying with a family, walking for over an hour along the sides of roads to get to school. He talked about how he wanted to be like his host father, who pitched in around the house and was actively involved in raising their young children.  

Not at all like how my family was growing up,” he said. He put his hands behind his head and lay down on the slab of stone.  

While my heart was pounding out of my chest as I copied him, Hiro seemed almost peaceful as he stared up at the gray sky, marred by the lights of Tokyo.  

It’s been ages since I’ve looked up at the stars like this,” he murmured. 

I couldn’t stop staring at him out of the corner of my eye. To me, it was like he glowed from within a radiant light of peace. Whether it actually is or not, I seem to live a life of turmoil. That light pulled me in as I found myself moving closer to him. 

He moved his eyes away from the sky and settled on me. There, in his eyes, I found everything I had been looking for.  

Ah, I remember thinking. That’s what love looks like.  

Hiro reached out, took my hand, and put it on his chest. Then he moved his eyes back up to the sky with a deep sigh of happiness. He didn’t move beyond that, and I found myself looking up at the few stars that could be seen.  

Hours passed, and I found myself falling asleep despite how cold that stone was growing as the night went on. Hiro seemed to notice my shivering at one point and handed me his overshirt.  

As much as I wanted to, I knew we couldn’t stay at that park all night long. Even in the middle of summer, it was too cold. The trains had stopped running, yet when we both finally sat up, there were still lights on in the office towers across the way. The city doesn’t sleep for all the wrong reasons, I thought.  

What do you want to do now?” Hiro said. He checked his phone. “I can’t get home either.”  

Cheap family restaurants are open all day and night in Japan, and after roaming the streets for an hour, we stumbled across one called Jonathan’s. Despite wanting to sit next to Hiro, I sat opposite him. I didn’t want to crowd him.  

I ordered fresh blueberries, and Hiro sat in stunned amusement as I ate the entire bowl in about a minute. I love blueberries. Hiro ordered a mango parfait and offered me a few bites.  

The wait staff were growing impatient with us despite the booth we’d chosen far from the entrance, but we ignored them. I started falling asleep and thought maybe I could try putting my head down on the table. My mind jolted me awake to see Hiro was still politely looking at me, the light of love still shining through his eyes in the poor restaurant lighting.  

May I borrow your shoulder?” I said.  

Absolutely,” he said and slid over to the wall to allow me more space.  
For seven hours, Hiro didn’t move as I lay my head on his shoulder. Every now and then I would be jostled awake as he slowly flexed his feet or checked his phone, but otherwise he stayed perfectly still to let me sleep. What kind of a person does that, I couldn’t help but think. Who was this amazing person lending me his shoulder like this?  

The restaurant was starting to fill up with the lunchtime rush. We paid our tab while avoiding the pointed glares of the staff and then headed out into the sun.  

Surely this is good-bye, I thought.  

What do you want to do next?” he said.  

I couldn’t help but laugh out loud. Next?  

Maybe, just maybe he didn’t want to let the date end as much as I did.  

I told Hiro I had been hoping for some kind of fruit and yogurt as a kind of make-up breakfast. We had thought it best to leave Jonathan’s before ordering more food, and now both of us were starving.  

Another phone search pointed Hiro to the basement of a classically styled shopping center in front of Tokyo Station that offered fruit smoothies. It was almost 2 p.m. on day two of our first date. No one in the crowds of people pushing past us seemed to notice the profoundest foundations of my life had been shaken.  

Could we see a movie?” I said.  

Hiro buried his face in his phone again.  

What movie?”  

With Hiro leading the way, we walked to the nearby Yurakucho, a posh area one station over from Tokyo Station that offers incredibly trendy shops and restaurants while also housing a movie theater.  

On the way there, Hiro didn’t hesitate to take my hand and lace my fingers with his. As he did, I could almost picture an enormous question mark appearing above us.  

Love never came this easily to me before. Ever. Why was it suddenly happening now? Even with my own instincts calling it fate, even with Hiro happily offering his shoulder for seven entire hours, I still couldn’t simply accept this was actually happening to me. Nothing this glorious had ever happened before.  

We sat through the whole movie holding hands, both engrossed in the movie. More than once I had hoped for a kiss in the darkened theater, but I lacked the courage to do anything myself, and Hiro seemed truly intrigued by the movie. Either that or he lacked courage, too.  

It was around 7:30 p.m. by the time the movie finished.  

Should we go home?” Hiro said.  

I knew he had work the next day, as did I. We should have been responsible adults and gone home, but I didn’t want to say good-bye. I asked him to come with me as far as Ueno Station and eat dinner with me there. Ueno Station is in the opposite direction to where his home was.  

He didn’t even hesitate.  

Inside Ueno Station, we ate what Japan deems Western food called an omuraisu. The chefs mixed rice, vegetables, chicken and ketchup together, topped it with an omelet and drizzled more ketchup on top. It can be quite heavenly.  

Once again, I found myself borrowing his shoulder.  

For the last time, anyway,” I said.  

Hiro’s shoulder seemed to stiffen.  

Last time?” he said.    

Wasn’t it? I had managed to take away two entire days of his life, most of which was spent sleeping beside him. While to me it had been a perfect date, surely he was hitting a wall tolerating me. Surely.  

For tonight anyway,” I said. His shoulder seemed to relax.  

We finally headed for the train platforms at 11 p.m. He would be on a train bound away from me, but he gladly missed his own train to see I made it safely onto mine. We held hands right up until I had to step into the train.  

For a second, I had an overwhelming instinct to reach out and kiss him. I felt so comfortable around Hiro that it was as if we had been on ten dates already. I had to actively work to stop myself from moving. Japan frowns on public displays of affection, and it might make Hiro uncomfortable. This was still technically the first date.  

Instead, I smiled at him and thanked him for everything. He beamed back at me a smile that I had never seen before. My heart stopped, temporarily paralyzed by sheer joy.  

It was truly an unforgettable date,” he said.  

He waved until my train disappeared out of sight. I continued staring out the train window where I stood, holding onto the little bars they offer inside the train for support. My eyes were locked on the memory of his face, of that smile.  

Tokyo Skytree appeared in the distance, glowing a brilliant blue as my heart sang the song of Hiro.  

I am a translator and editor who has lived near Tokyo for about 12 years. Along with having a fantastic time learning Japanese, I love traveling. To read more of what I’ve written, along with a blog on Japan and other random thoughts, please visit 

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