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The Kid from Tokyo Learns that Everyone Seeks for Happiness

~ across the country and back on Ameripass, and home to Tokyo ~

Sep 18, 2008
Eiji Yoshikawa

Before leaving the US, I decided to cross the country by Greyhound Bus. They had just created a special ticket called “Ameripass” which cost me only $12 per day to ride the bus as much as I wanted. I left a few days before Christmas. It took me six days to cross the country from New York to San Francisco. My “hotel” was the bus every night, except one night in Cheyenne, Wyoming where it was -15C degrees [5 degrees Fahrenheit].

In the open-air and very cold bus stop in Cheyenne, I saw a family of Native Americans with two small kids, wrapped with rough rags, wearing traditional hats, just like they might have looked one hundred years ago. They didn’t say a thing, didn’t move a thing and just kept standing there.

Somewhere outside of St. Louis, in an industrial town, a young lady with a red, knit hat came onboard. After hours of riding the bus, she got off at the smallest bus stop in the smallest town in the world, where one worn-out van was parked. As she stepped out into the frozen, thick snow, her parents ran to her and they hugged each other tight. In the bitter, cold air, I felt the warmth, too.

In San Francisco, I stood by the Golden Gate Bridge, remembering what Kyohei – my father – told me. When he was 17 years old – around 1949 or 1950 – he twice crossed the ocean from Japan to San Francisco by ship, as a sailor. After weeks of seeing nothing on the sea and being sea sick, one early morning his colleague called him up to the upper deck. Kyohei walked up to the deck and saw the massive Golden Gate Bridge passing right above him. Thirty-three years later, his son came back to the same spot. Because he had seen a bigger world back in 1950, I was a rare and lucky Japanese kid to be supported by him to go to the other side of the horizon.

In Los Angeles, I realized that I needed to buy a few more Ameripass tickets to complete my trip back to New York. I went to the Greyhound Bus counter and spoke to the Afro-American lady who was in her late twenties. She saw that my age was twenty-three years old, since I had to show her my Student ID in order to buy Ameripass. Then, she looked at my face closely and said, “Oh, you are just a baby.”

These special tickets back then were kind of primitive. The tickets just displayed the start date of the trip and the length -- “2 weeks”. I said to her that I needed to add maybe three days more to my pass and she said, “No, you don’t have to.” She put her face closer to mine, through the small square window and said, “They never count.”

She saved me about $24, so I bought myself a new backpack in a discount shop in a back street of LA, because my little one was getting really full. That new backpack from LA would travel with me all over the world later on.

Near El Paso, which looked just like John Wayne’s Rio Bravo movie, filled with cowboys with guns around their waist, the New Year moment arrived. It was pitch black at midnight, but someone in the back of the bus knew the moment had arrived, and he said, “Happy New Year!” I was awake, and saw fireworks on both sides of the bus being shot into the dark sky.

I fell asleep and was awakened at three or four in the morning. I saw the busy blinking lights of a couple of police cars outside. Patrolmen with flashlights raided the bus and rushed to the back. I heard some Spanish and English all mixed up, and saw those patrolmen literally kicking out three or four Mexican people wearing beat-up backpacks. As they were pushed against the police cars, I saw young policemen laughing and laughing and laughing loudly.

As I arrived back at the Port Authority Bus Terminal on 42nd Street in Manhattan, the money in my pocket ran out. Time for the cicada to fly home.

Although Tokyo was not the kind of city, and Japan was not the kind of country, that my heart belonged to, I took the Korean Air flight through Anchorage and Seoul, Korea the same way that I came to the Big Apple. I saw again the huge polar bear in the lobby of the Anchorage Airport, standing there the same as it was one year before. A year before, I had felt much, much smaller than the one hundred foot polar bear. I was still much smaller than the bear, but I felt that I could face it, as my fuel tank was filled again with a lot of spirit.

Thank you, everyone – Frankie, Vinnie, the Greek chef, Richie the Security Guard, Miami Steve, Adele, Frances and the other teachers, the Marathon runners, the Greyhound Bus ticket lady and many, many other ordinary people who were fighting every day for something. I will be fine when I’m back in Japan.

Bye, bye and thank you to the Big Apple. It was back home to the Big Sushi.

The Japanese boxer who went to New York returned to Tokyo filled with all kinds of experiences, particularly the experiences of meeting all kinds of different people. However, inside the little boxer, people are all the same. They all seek for happiness. Everyone wants to be happy. Making people happy is the greatest thing that we can do.

For the kid from New York, Tokyo wasn’t the same boring concrete jungle anymore. It was “New Tokyo”, because he had a new point of view.

Eiji Yoshikawa is a retired Pro Boxer who majored inFrench literature and did his thesis on Jean Cocteau and Cinematography. He founded the "Peacemakers", Japan's first neighborhood watch, and spends much of his time visiting schools and communities teaching children about non-violence. In 2004, Japan Inc. Magazine called him the "Compassionate Pugilist". We are proud to offer "Letters from the Compassionate Pugilist" as our first guestcolumnist. Contact Eiji at or via email.

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