Skip to content →


Mr. W

We all piled out of the plane at Narita,
taking our first steps into the mystery.
A few spoke some Japanese;
most, like me, not a word.
Then suddenly he was there,
quick and powerful and suave,
a smile permanently lurking
just behind his eyes.
He showed us how to use a payphone
so we could tell our parents we’d lived.
“Last call for a month,” he reminded us.
Then it was buses, if memory serves.
Taneen would remember.
Anyway, it was a long trip north
to a hotel in Sendai, where
the next morning a series
of curious families would try
to identify us from the one photo
they’d each been sent.
Halting conversations,
mispronounced names,
then helping us into cars
or onto trains with our suitcases
and our wide-eyed stares.
Mr. W watched over it all,
nodding at the right places,
stepping in to translate,
making sure each of us felt cared for.
Later he’d party with us
and dance and sing songs
and watch us eat soba
till a couple of us puked.
We were all thousands of miles
from our fathers, but he made it feel
like no distance at all.

/ / /

26 August 2023
Charlottesville VA

For Wakabayashi-san, who passed away recently and who was the guardian and guide to so many Rotary exchange students in northern Japan. Arigatou gozaimashita.

This is poem 36 in a series called 50 Days Till 50 Years. I’m writing a poem a day between now and my 50th birthday. I’m going to try to focus on memories of my past, and the people who inhabited it.

Published in 50 Days Till 50 Years Japan My poems Poetry

One Comment

  1. Juri Juri

    Hello, Jason.
    I don’t know you remember me but I do remember you.
    I am Juri, daughter of Mr. Wakabayashi.

    Thank you so much for your poem.
    I miss him so much so I couldn’t read without my tears.

    Taneen told me and my sister Riri about your poem.

    Thank you again.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.