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第5回 イマジン・リトル東京ショートストーリー・コンテスト


Rae sat in class, back straight and pen in hand, her elbow resting comfortably on a page already filled with notes. She attentively wrote down each important detail from the presentation slides being shown.

The bell rang, and everyone began to pack up their things.

“Hold on students,” the teacher spoke. “You have a special writing assignment due at the start of next week. You must write about a place you visited when you were younger. A place that scared you, excited you, made you happy, made you sad… Wherever comes to mind. And discuss the way it made you feel.”

With that she smiled and waved the students off.

Rae scratched her head as she slung her bag over her shoulder.

“I don’t know... It feels like I’ve pushed out all my memories to make room for calculus. What could I write about?” she thought.

When Rae arrived back at home, she slumped down on her bed and sighed, her dilemma no more figured out than it had been at school.

“Why is this so hard for me?”

Rae didn’t want to be like most of the class and write about Disneyland, but if she didn’t think of something soon she was afraid it might come to that.

Suddenly, a grand idea popped into her head.

“I’ll go through one of my old diaries! Hopefully I wrote about something that wasn’t a trip to Disneyland…”

After some digging through her closet she finally found something, letting out a triumphant “Aha!” as she did.

From a dusty box she lifted a small journal embroidered with red flowers.

In it Rae discovered many events she recorded in the past, some that Rae in the present cringed to remember. However some were heartwarming, such as the adoption of their two cats Mimi and Lulu.

Finally, something pertaining to her search came up.

She held the thin page between two fingers as her eyes skimmed the particular entry from a summer many years ago.

“August 2011. I was just about to turn 12…” she thought to herself.

“Going to Little Tokyo with grandma and grandpa today”

“Little Tokyo,” Rae thought, “I haven’t even thought about that place in years. This entry must have been from the last time we went…”

As she read her own words over, she found it strange that she hadn’t thought to write about the neighborhood for her assignment earlier. But maybe the fact that they hadn’t gone in many years had caused the memory to fade.

This would be great material for her essay, but there was an issue. As much as she tried, Rae could not recall the emotions she felt while visiting Little Tokyo. Thus, there was no plausible way she could write about it. Unless…

“That’s it!” she exclaimed.

It was decided then. That weekend, she would drive out to Downtown L.A. and try to harness some of the feelings she experienced nearly seven years ago.

“The things I do for Ms. Somero’s class.” Rae mumbled as she went to sleep.

* * * * *

Saturday came, and though Rae had planned to wake up bright and early for her trip, she slept in until the afternoon. That meant her mom had already left to begin her Saturday errands, and the only ones Rae had left to say goodbye to were her two cats.

“Bye you two. Don’t worry about me, Mom gave me all the directions I need, and I won’t be long.”

It was odd to her. Her destination wasn’t very far from her apartment, about a thirty minute walk, and yet she hadn’t visited in so long.

She didn’t need her mom nor diary to remind her where the heart of Little Tokyo was, as the groups of people drawn to the main hub swarming with conversation and life was an indication in itself.

Inari, onigiri, dorayaki— the list of sweet and savory indulgences being sold went on and on. To Rae, it was obviously a must that she take advantage of the trip by treating herself to all the handcrafted creations from the food vendors.

Though the food was delightful and Rae was able to record the feelings she experienced, (joy, mouth-watering sensation, appreciation, maybe even love) she realized she still wasn’t able to unearth past sentimental memories.

She sighed as she walked down the brick street, passing by someone playing the acoustic guitar. The song played was calming and peaceful but not slow, the pace of her feet falling behind the rhythm of the music created by precise strumming of strings.

Rae sat on a bench and pulled out her notebook where she was recording things to write about in her essay.

“Happy. At ease.”

She thought hard as she searched her mind for more concise words to describe the way the music made her feel.

“Reminiscent… without actually remembering anything?”

Rae huffed, slightly annoyed, and stood up with the intent of walking around for a little bit longer and maybe having her memory jolted.

But when she looked up she found herself reading a sign for one of the shops, naming the store in large red block lettering. She felt what could almost be described as a weak magnetic pull drawing her in, and she allowed it to as she pulled open one of the doors.

The place was quiet save for some lively music as Rae walked up a flight of stairs and past an empty display case.

She quickly realized it was a restaurant, lined with tables and a bar tucked in the back. What she also found, however, was an apparent lack of people. Not even behind the bar counter did a single soul dwell.

“Hello?” Rae called out.

The restaurant was comfortably warm and smelled like food had recently been made. If it weren’t for this, Rae might’ve assumed that it was closed. She walked down an aisle with booths on either side of her, admiring the interior. The tables were made of a glossy cherry wood while polished dark wooden beams stretched toward the ceilings. Rae called out again.

“Is anyone here? I’m sorry if I’m not supposed to be here, the door was unlocked...”

When still no answer came, Rae shrugged and continued to look around.

She noticed the interior was lined with decorations. Sake barrels sat on shelves by the bar, vintage Japanese beer posters adorned the walls, and finally, glowing paper lanterns welcomed the way to a buffet.

Upon reaching it, Rae was surprised to find the trays filled with freshly made food.

“Then why is no one here?” she wondered aloud.

“So sorry for making you wait.” a voice floated from across the restaurant, back where Rae came from.

Rae perked up at the voice, and she strode through the aisle of tables to meet its owner.

Her eyes widened as she approached the figure. It was abnormally tall and massive, which gave it a terrifying presence, as it stood in a shadow and Rae could make out no other features but size.

She reluctantly continued to inch towards it. It was right by the exit, after all.

“Hello… Um, I’m sorry I was just leaving.” she said politely, and with her best false confidence.

“Oh, so soon? I’m sorry to hear that. Well I hope you found what you were looking for.” His voice wasn’t threatening, but Rae didn’t quite understand his words.

She passed him slowly, and as she did so she felt something unusual.

A radiant feeling passed through her. It was not a feeling of malice, and it eased her fears momentarily, making her feel safe enough to steal a look at the mystery person.

As she did, the color left her face.

At a quick glance, all Rae could gather was that this was not a human being. Fur covered its body, and wide ears sprouted from its head. She wasted not another second, and began sprinting down the stairs.

Rae near slammed into the door as she ran out, not stopping until she was several feet away from the building. Her breath came out in hard gasps and she held her chest, feeling her heartbeat hammer away at a mile per minute.

The normal reactions of shock swam through her head. “Was I hallucinating? Well, I must’ve been, right?”

There were no obvious answers and none that reassured her she wasn’t crazy.

Rae became painfully aware of a sudden lightness in her pocket and her hand rushed to it in a panic. Notebook, check… Wait.

She realized, with a sinking feeling, that her MP3 player was missing.

“Oh no...” She half-whispered as she slowly turned her head toward the restaurant.

Rae only momentarily tried to convince herself that she could have dropped the MP3 player somewhere else, far far away from the restaurant. No matter how hard she tried denying it, the device, something that never failed to bring her comfort and something her mom could not afford to replace, was in there.

Though the entire time she ascended the stairs for the second time that day her hands shook, and she thought to herself that she might be willingly walking into the arms of death himself, she grudged on.

All for the sake of this piece of technology filled with cherished songs, and with them cherished memories.

As Rae reached the landing she felt that same sensation wash over her again. Somehow, it seemed to emanate from her right. Her head turned in that direction, and where the display case once stood empty, it was now occupied— with the same figure from before.

In the light, Rae finally was able to get a good look at it. It surprised her, and yet strangely, seeing its appearance in detail comforted her.

She was slow to speak, but still managed to stammer out:


The creature released a drawn out sigh. It looked almost defeated.

“I’m tired of people calling me that. Come to think of it, you were one of the children who always came by here yelling that at me, as if it was my name.” Its tone sounded offended and accusatory.

Rae stared, her face twisted with perplexion.

“Why is it talking as if it knows me? Am I supposed to be familiar with… monsters that vaguely resemble cartoon characters?”

The creature broke the silence.

Anyways, what brings you back here? You left in quite a hurry before.”

Rae still couldn’t believe she was conversing with this thing that scared her out of her wits and sent her running for the hills mere minutes before.

“I… lost my MP3 player.” she stuttered.

“MP3 player? Gee, what year is it again? I didn’t think those things existed anymore.” It laughed heartily, as if it just made an excellent joke.

Rae was taken aback at how casually it spoke to her.

“Not everyone can afford an iPhone, alright?” She shot back defensively, as her feeling of comfortability achieved an all-time high. “What are you, some rich raccoon?”

It replied calmly, “I’m not Totoro, nor a raccoon. I didn’t want to assume this, but I’m starting to believe it’s true. You really don’t remember me, do you?”

Remember you?”

Rae was in disbelief.

“I really don’t know who or what you are, and out of respect, I don’t think I’ve ever even seen-.”

At that moment, as Rae was unleashing her rant of incredulity, her eyes met with a plaque affixed to the display case the creature stood behind.

“Tanuki Spirit”

It was then that finally, finally some remembrance began creeping back. Rae did remember.

Rae’s siblings, parents, and grandparents were all present in the memory.

She recalled scurrying up the stairs of the restaurant and past the display case, stopping to point and converse with her brothers.

“Look it’s Totoro!” They all agreed, and their parents laughed at their ability to notice the shared characteristics between the tanuki statue and their favorite cartoon.

The entire family would always sit by the karaoke stage, where many tables could be pushed together for them all to sit.

Rae heard plastic and paper crinkling. These were the sounds of family members setting down bags filled with goodies bought throughout the day. Everyone laughed with one another and told stories as they ordered their drinks.

The adults all took turns going to the buffet, as someone always had to stay to watch Rae and her brothers. Rae wouldn’t even have to get up and would have a plate of steaming food brought to her by her mom.

And all the while the family was sat at the tables closest to the display case, and the statue of the Tanuki Spirit.

Rae looked up at the creature. “You were always there. How could I forget?”

The spirit smiled, radiating warmth. “You didn’t forget. You just had to remember.”

It stepped out from the display case and pressed something smooth into Rae’s palm.

Her MP3 player.

* * * * *

By the time Rae arrived home it was almost dark, as the sun set as early as 5 p.m. during the winter. Upon entering her room she tossed the journal on her bed, its significance lost among the events of the day. She was unravelling her earphones to listen to music when her mom walked in.

“So how was your little visit?” She asked with the usual sweetness and genuine interest in her tone, as she sat on Rae’s bed.

“It was nice and not what I was expecting.” Rae answered truthfully. “But I ran across something that I had nearly forgotten all about.”

“Is that so?” Her mom inquired.

“Yeah, that restaurant we used to go to all the time, Oiwake. I didn’t even remember it was there. But that place made so many memories come rushing back.”

Rae’s mother smiled and her eyes lit up as she nodded enthusiastically. “Oh, man. Yeah your grandparents and I used to love that place and taking you kids there. It’s really too bad it closed down.”

Rae stared at her mom for a few seconds upon hearing the last words, but said nothing. She simply turned to look down at her MP3 player in hand and smiled to herself.

The following Monday, Ms. Somero’s class rolled around, and as the bell rang she called for the students to be seated.

“Alright students, by now you have all submitted your stories. You wrote about emotions, and many wonderfully unique places. But the importance of doing this assignment is knowing its purpose.”

“Recalling past places from your childhood, and more importantly the things you did there and the way these things made you feel, is a powerful tool. History and our knowledge of the past was once kept entirely through the memories of people. Time will pass and artifacts will deteriorate, important figures will be lost, and places we love may not exist anymore.”

“But traditions, people, and places of our past, along with all our dearest memories, will always continue to exist in our stories, hearts, and minds.”


*This is the winning story in the Youth category of the Little Tokyo Historical Society’s Imagine Little Tokyo Short Story Contest V.


© 2018 Madeline Parga

community fiction food Imagine Little Tokyo little tokyo lths student tanuki




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