Her name is Kanei Miyamoto. Her father is Japanese, while her mother is Cantonese. She kissed her mother and grandmother goodbye, waved, and stepped out of her two-floored house in Kobe, Japan. Walking down the short road to her school, she slightly shifted her black landoseru or, in other words, leather school bag. She glanced at her watch. Three more minutes — if she didn’t make haste, she would be late. Half jogging and half running, Kanei approached the school gates. It was lively, with groups of ecstatic girls and boys scattered everywhere, coming from every direction you can name. Looking around, Kanei shrank down ten inches —it was obvious that everyone here was pure Japanese. I don’t know what to do here, and I have no idea where my class is, she told herself.
King-kong-kang-kong, king-kong-king-kong . . . the bells rang. Interesting I thought that bells are supposed to have only one sound that rings for five seconds or so.
Kanei entered the building. It appeared like a maze to her . . . and it was her first time to ever go inside the school. She wasn’t accustomed to the Japanese setting of schools. Back where she used to live, her parents couldn’t afford the fees, so she attended a public school taught in English.
“Ahem, um, would you please tell me where Mr. Yamanagi’s class is? I think I’m lost,” she randomly chose a tall, dainty girl to ask.
The girl’s long hair swung around. “Do you mean Yamanagi sensei?” the girl questioned.
Oh yeah, oops! Kanei forgot that she was supposed to call her teachers sensei, for teacher! “Um, yes!”
“Oh, well, I’m going there now. Just follow me.”
“No problem. You’re new here?”
“What’s your name?”
“Kanei Miyamoto. Yours?”
“Satsuki Takahara.” Kanei felt somewhat relieved and felt like she had found a friend.
All her other classmates were already in the class. “Sit down, class, and we will begin.” There was a robust man standing in front of the class, and Kanei figured that it was Yamanagi sensei. The giggling and gossiping in the class died down.
“All right, welcome class to the start of ichigakki, first term. I am your teacher this year. Let’s begin by introducing ourselves to each other. How about we start with you.” Yamanagi sensei pointed at a small boy sitting in a corner. He stood up and walked to the front of the class.
“Hi. I’m Kenta Nakamu. My birthday is November 5, 1993, and I was born in Osaka. My hobbies are baseball, soccer, video games, and comics. My dream for the future is to be the next Hideki Matsui.” The class applauded. One by one, the students took turns. Oh no, I don’t want to do this.
“Next, please.” Kanei knew it was her turn.
“Hello, my name is Kanei Miyamoto. I was born in Shen Zhen, China, on May 17, 1993. I like to draw, play tennis, and sing. Someday, I would like to become a singer in a theater. This is the first time I am living in Japan and going to a real Japanese school, so . . . “
“Ha ha ha. Phugh!” A bunch of boys burst out laughing, and girls whispered behind cupped hands to each other. Satsuki was one of them. Kanei just gazed, bewildered. Did I do anything wrong?
” . . . well, so I hope you will all help me settle here.”
Kanei didn’t know if she should sit or stay She looked at Yamanagi sensei. He seemed to be troubled.
“Uh, um, thank you, Kanei. Let’s all help Kanei, right?”
“Ye-es,” murmured the class.
“Kanei,” inquired Yamanagi sensei, “can you read and write? Do you know kanji, the Japanese characters?”
“Yes, I can, sensei I was tutored every week in Japanese studies.” Kanei felt humiliated.
“Oh. Then, good.” The rest of the class continued with the self-introducing, and class started. In no time, it was recess. Kanei hunted for Satsuki, but to no avail. Desisting, she spotted a girls’ washroom and decided to set foot in it. Just when she was about to open the door, it was yanked out of her hands and flung open.
“Oh, Satsuki, there you are! I was looking for you, and . . . “
“You were? Well, I’m sor-ry.” Kanei sensed some sarcasm in Satsuki’s tone.
Kanei was taken aback. “Well, I was just wondering if we could spend the recess together, since . . .”
“Oh, well. I can’t. I’m not going to waste my life caring for a Chinese girl!” With that, Satsuki tossed her hair at Kanei, raised her nose high into the air, and went away.
Gee, she sure is in some bad mood. Although feeling much aggrieved, Kanei managed to swallow the pain and went back to class.
“Attention, class, attention. I have an important announcement to make. All the shogaku rokunen, primary six students, will be performing a school musical play in two months’ time. If you wish to get one of the main vocal roles, you must attend the audition tomorrow after school, enjoy singing and acting, and be free every day for the next two months.” Sounds perfect for me. Perhaps it’ll help me make some friends here.
The following day, Kanei made her way to Nishima sensei’s class, her music teacher. There were about fifteen people for the audition, and Nishima sensei recorded everyone’s names onto a piece of paper in her hands.
“Everyone, please take a seat. We will begin soon. Hashimoto sensei, your art teacher, and Otsuka sensei, your principal, along with me, are the judges. We will judge you by having you all sing the song ‘Sukiyaki’ today I will accompany you with the melody on piano. Everyone knows the song, right?”
Everyone, including Kanei, nodded. This was one of her favorite Japanese songs. The tension in her heart loosened.
“We will go by the order I have you listed. First up is Kanei Miyamoto of Yamanagi sensei’s class.”
Kanei’s heart skipped a beat. “Me?”
“Yes, Miss Kanei.”
Oh dear I’m first! The tension came back, and Kanei’s heart seemed to beat as fiercely as a drum beat. She made her way to the front of the judges, as if she were in a trance. Nishima sensei seated herself at her piano and looked up. “Ready?”
Kanei shook herself from the trance. A small microphone was set before her, with a stand holding the lyrics to the song. “Um, yes.” Kanei took a deep breath.
I look up
When I walk
So the tears won’t fall
Remembering those happy spring days
But tonight I’m all alone …
Without realizing, Kanei started to get all giddy. How she admired the song! She moved her body and snapped her fingers in rhythm. She was in her own world . . .
I look up
When I walk
Counting the stars with tearful eyes
Remembering those happy summer days
But tonight I’m all alone
Happiness lies beyond the clouds
Happiness lies above the sky …
The three judges clapped. “Marvelous, Kanei, subarashii. You may go now.”
Still dazzled, Kanei left the classroom. The only thing she could recall was the look of Satsuki’s face in the audience—astonished and full of fury
* * *
“Kanei Miyamoto,” said the results the next day, “and Satsuki Takahara as Polly and Sally Little.” Kanei couldn’t trust her eyes. She was overjoyed and her mind leaped like a frog. I made it!
The only downside of her role was that she had to work with Satsuki, since the play was about Polly and Sally Little, sisters who were orphaned and spent each day looking for a home. Satsuki wasn’t pleased. At the first practice, she hissed, “So it’s you again.” Word traveled that Kanei was the “girl from China.” Even though she didn’t feel at ease, Kanei pushed herself forward. Being part of a play was her dream, and she wouldn’t let words ruin it.
* * *
Weeks passed, and it was the day of the performance. Parents, teachers, and students were going to gather in the school theater on that special night. The performers met that morning to prepare.
“Kanei,” Nishima sensei inquired, “have you seen Satsuki? It’s already thirty minutes past the meeting time, and she’s not here.”
“Very well. I will call her home.”
However, when Nishima sensei returned, she seemed to be full of arudety. “Kanei, Satsuki has a sore throat. Her mother tells me that she will not be able to perform tonight.”
“B-but, Nishima sensei, then what will happen to Satsuki’s role?”
“We will have Mieri Kitamura, her best friend, do her part. She knows Satsuki’s lines.” Kanei though knew that Mieri was dismayed about playing the role of Sally And she knew how to make Satsuki better.
“Nishima sensei, excuse me for a while. I have something important to do. I’ll be back for the rehearsals.”
“Where are you going?”
“Oh, somewhere . . .” her voice trailed off. Then, without allowing sensei to object, Kanei was gone, running out the school doors and racing back home. Grandma, inside, was startled.
“Kanei, why are you home so early?”
“Oh . . . I just need to get some . . . uh, things . . . for my partner in the play I’ll be quick.” Almost forgetting to take off her shoes, Kanei burst into the kitchen. Rummaging here and there, she frantically searched. Here it is. She boiled some water, and put the water in a small pot. Now, where is that . . . Once again, Kanei rummaged, this time not caring about making a mess. Aha! Within five minutes, she was back out the door with a basket full of her remedies. Kanei was going directly to Satsuki’s house. It was easy— she lived only two houses away.
Ding-dong. The door was yanked open. “Yes?”
“Hi, I’m Satsuki’s classmate. Would you please let me see her?”
“I’m afraid she is sick now.”
“Please—that is why I came.”
“Well . . . if you don’t mind, sure.” Apprehensively, Kanei stepped in. Wow, Satsuki’s house is big. She found Satsuki’s room.
“Satsuki, it’s me, Kanei.”
Satsuki looked up from her bed. “What do you want?” a weak voice replied.
“I brought you some medicines I have from China for sore throats. Trust me, they work . . . and fast. This is jyon yao, a blend of herbs. It’s been used from the Qing Dynasty. And I brought you some hot water for this special tea . . . it’s also made from herbs.”
“Ha! What’s it got . . . snakes in it?”
“No. The jyon yao is made from Radix Rehmanniae, Cortex Moutan, Bulbus Fritillariae Cirrhosae, and . . . “
“Sounds as nasty as snakes to me!!”
“Well, I’ll just leave them here for you, so . . . “
“Sure, but I’m not going to have any of it!!!” Satsuki yelled, breaking into coughs. Before they started fighting, Kanei left the house. She arrived back at school just in time for the rehearsal.
* * *
“Ladies and gentlemen, please be seated. The show will begin in ten minutes.” Night came abruptly for Kanei. Just then, someone came huffing and puffing for breath into the backstage room.
“SATSUKI!!!!!!” Everyone gasped. “YOU’RE BACK!!!”
Nishima sensei and Mieri looked pleased. “Hurry! Change! Put on your makeup!” There was no time for talk.
The curtains were drawn, and the spotlights fell on Kanei and Satsuki. The show was truly starting. Despite Satsuki’s sore throat earlier that day, she had a lucid, sweet voice, and so did Kanei. Their harmony stunned the audience. Everything went smoothly . . . better than any other practice. The two girls polished the show by ending it with a mellow “Sukiyaki.” The audience clapped and cheered. Kanei never felt so superior.
Afterwards, unexpectedly, Nishima sensei appeared on stage with a microphone in her hand. “Everyone, before we finish, Satsuki, Sally, would like to say something important.” Satsuki cleared her throat.
“Well, I just wanted to acknowledge someone here on this stage with me today” She glanced at Kanei. “Kanei, thank you, thank you so much. If you hadn’t given me the medicines you gave me today, I wouldn’t be here right now. They cured my throat, and just knowing that you cared for me made me stronger. I know that I treated you unjustly, but you were always the innocent one. I feel stupid for treating you so—just because you were born in China! I am full of regret, and I will never call you bad names again. Please forgive me. And you know how I said that I wouldn’t take your medicines? Well, I did, and they helped me realize the repulsive truth of what I really did to you.” Satsuki was shedding uncontrollable tears. She hugged Kanei.
Kanei was crying, too. “It’s all right.”
The crowd cheered once more.
Kanei had never cried happier, better tears before. And as they rolled down her cheeks, she knew that everything would be OK because she was accepted for who she was, right there. She had found a true friend, and treasure that she never knew she possessed.