Stereotypes can kill [JAPAN]

Sarah Mokhtar

The same vibrant ad replays for the 100th time. I hum the theme song to myself and look up to the sky. The clouds are getting dark, and it looks like the universe is crying again. I grab my bag and open the umbrella I bought from Family Mart a few hours ago. As I open my umbrella, like a domino effect, everyone around me does the same. I wait for the light to turn green as millions of cars and buses drive past us. Then the light turns orange and cars slow down to a stop. 
I count to myself. I’ve been here enough times to know how long it takes for the lights to turn from orange to blue, blue to red and the list goes on. 
As expected, the lights switch to blue. I blink and then a whole flock of people are running, walking, filming, dancing, modelling and practically anything. As I’m walking, I make eye contact with one little elementary school child. She is dressed in a white uniform with a sunflower yellow hat. Her hair is tied into two small pigtails. She has a small badge and it reads, ’Aki Nakamura.’ She’s holding her mum’s hand, and as we locked eyes I suddenly took a glimpse into her world..
-Aki’s Life (Present Day: 2019 6 years old)-
Let’s eat!!’ Aki says. Her brother and mother all close their eyes briefly and then pick up their chopsticks. Ari’s house is small but cosy; it is nothing special. Her dad is still in the kitchen making himself some yakiniku. Aki loves to smell the scent of the yakiniku sizzling and how crispy the air becomes, or when she could see the food change from completely inedible and raw to tantalising and mouth-watering. She loves watching all the small bubbles pop out and sizzle down again and leave all its juice on the meat and when you taste it the feeling your mouth gets when a fresh slice of meat enters its tongue and how her mum always makes the meat just the right shade of brown and red. 
Not so red that it’s raw. 
Not too brown that it’s burnt. 
The thought gives her a sense of hope and excitement. 
Then, Kenji, Aki’s little brother, turns to his dad and says,
Daddy! Today when I was walking home I saw a cosplayer walking in the street and they looked so weird. Ha. Ha. Ha!’ Kenji laughs and gets back to eating his rice and fish. Ari’s mum scrunches up her face,
Why do they want to stand out so much? It's so weird…’she mutters. 
Aki loves clothes that pop out and catch everyone's eyes. She thinks they’re cool and funny, but her family doesn’t like them so she stays quiet. Aki’s favourite subject is PE. She loves running around with her friends or using the skipping rope and playing ‘だるまさんころんだ.’ (Red Light Green Light) When skipping rope, she and her friends often talk about what sort of stickers they’re gonna buy after school or if they like the new episode from their favourite anime series. Aki also especially loves humanities because she enjoys learning about the world not only in Tokyo but Europe or Africa. Aki’s mum works at an office. Aki’s dad is a construction worker. He helps build structures such as Olympic stadiums and roller coasters. Aki really enjoys her life and is very satisfied with Tokyo.
-Back to present time-
We both break eye contact, and she walked away holding hands with her mum. I stare at her mum’s hands, and I see that she doesn't have a ring on her finger anymore. Her hands are visibly bone and slim, and her face isn’t as bright as one might think. 
As I walk past, I suddenly feel a tingling rush in my toes which bleeds into my thighs then to my stomach and my chest then my neck then finally stops at my ears.  My whole body feels this strange sensation, and I feel like the world is melting away. The cars are honking madly, The lights are flashing crazily; the ground feels like slime and that slime is drowning me into what seems like an endless abyss…
Like a baby that just calmed down after being handed a pacifier or like when we’re breathing heavily and we can see the endorphins rushing into our bodies, the whole world slows down then goes back to its normal pace.It isn’t raining here, whatever that condensation is, but I don’t have my umbrella anyway, so I don’t think twice.
Everyone else is walking at a fast pace so I walk to keep everything together. My surroundings don’t seem like where I was before; a place that is a bit more dull and dark. 
No cosplayers in sight, Kenji must be happy.
While I’m walking. I start to look around and see some faces I might recognise or I could see clear emotions plastered on their faces. But no one looks even for a second at my direction. 
I keep walking until out of the corner of my eye I spot a girl who really stands out in the crowd. She’s wearing a bright pink sweater with ripped jeans that had bleach. Her hair is in loose space buns with curtain bangs dancing on the sides of her face. She already had such a naturally contoured nose and her arm has a dragon tattoo. Everyone passes by staring at her in disgust, but she seems completely unbothered and keeps walking. I stare at her in awe. She glances at me and I realise something.
She’s Aki.
-Aki’s Life (Present day: 2027 14 years old)-
MOM YOU DON’T UNDERSTAND!’ Aki shouts from across the room. Her fists clench at the sight of her disappointed mum. 
Yes. I do. You want to be so unique and special that you won’t listen to what I’m saying Aki.’ Aki’s mum replies calmly. 
Aki, taken back, breathes heavily. 
“‘I couldn’t have you walking around like some barbarian. YOU ARE A NAKAMURA SO START ACTING LIKE IT,’ she says frustrated.
Aki pauses. She’s never seen her mum raise her voice like that. 
Tears start to escape out of Aki’s eyes. 
‘I-I…’  Aki inhales, ‘I’m sorry that I bought them without your permission but please give me my clothes, Aki says exhaling. She looks down in embarrassment and she sees the slightly cracked floorboard. The sakura patterns on her floor make the room look so much better in Ari’s opinion.
‘It’s too late, they're all gone.’ Aki’s mum walks out the door and shuts it behind her. 
Aki walks up the stairs,steps into her room, and looks at her closet. What used to be neon pink and crazy rainbow colours is now replaced with dull Uniqlo clothes. She hated Uniqlo clothes. The brand is known for its comfy clothes, but Aki hates the design and how it has no taste, so Aki’s grimaces at the sight of her clothes, 
‘No these aren’t my clothes,’ she thinks, ‘They're my mum’s.’ Aki then looks at her room. Not only did her mum throw away her clothes but also her posters and accessories. Her room looks naked and bland. Aki has never been a fan of the Japanese stereotypes, but she has no one to talk to about it as her friends are all obedient. 
‘I hate my mum and her stupid Japanese stereotypes.’
-Back to present time-
We break eye contact, and she walks away expressionless. I almost stop, but then I realise that I need to keep moving as people keep nudging me to get through. As I witness Aki walk away, I wonder: Where she’s living? Is her mum ok now?
I look around and notice all the similarities to this world to the Shibuya Scramble. The woody aroma dances around my body. All I can hear are my own thoughts. No one makes a sound. Even if I try to strike a conversation with someone, they step away from me. Almost like they're scared to talk to me. Everyone’s dressed the same and girls have their hair in a low ponytail and guys just keep theirs straight. I observe and see that they’re all wearing masks. I keep walking and then that same strange slimy feeling entered my body again. I let the strange phenomenon happen, and then before I can blink I’m being pulled into the strange abyss again…
Everything slows down again and intrigued with this world I stride towards the road. This world isn’t as different from the other one. But I notice this place is much more colourful. Everyone’s wearing extravagant clothing and outstanding hairstyles. Almost like Aki duplicated herself into the whole population. The lights turn blue, and each and everyone of these people starts to walk. Not in sync like the last place but more freely. Everyone goes at their own pace and they're all having their mini conversations. I try to make eye contact with someone but no-one looks my way, they're all too busy with themselves. But amidst the crazy crowd I do finally catch someone’s eye.
They're different from everyone else.
She’s holding two little kids' hands. A boy and a girl; they are around two years old. The woman seems well-kept, but I see the dark under eye bags and slim figure. As I’m scanning her, I notice her naturally contoured nose and the dragon tattoo which peaks out from her sleeves.
‘Aki?’ I think out loud. I don’t know how loud I said it but almost like on cue she turns to me and before I can do anything I’m zapped into her world.
-Aki’s Life (Present day: 30 years old)-
It’s dark and cold. Not a single soul is smiling. You can taste the bitter atmosphere. The man carries her grave and places it on the ground with a thud. The grave is carved with her initials and enchanting rose petals are lying next to it. The man proceeds to bury it. Everyone most important to her is here except for Aki. Aki isn’t coming for the service. She can’t face the guilt. 
She didn’t want anything to do with her anymore. 
-Aki’’s Life (2 weeks before)-
To Aki: I’m happy you’re finally wearing clothes that really help you fit in. I got some more on sale!! Enjoy. -Mum
Aki mum keeps sending her oatmeal clothes and money to buy even more oatmeal clothes, and each time, Aki sends in return her hatred for her mum and her mum’s way of thinking, a hatred which grows in Aki’s chest. Aki lives in her own apartment, and her mum always visits on the weekends to bring more dull and plain blouses and money and her mom always leaves with a frown on her face. As much as Aki didn’t want to wear the clothes, she wears the outfits for her mum as if she didn’t she wouldn’t get money anymore and wouldn’t be able to pay for her stuff. 
Ugh,’  Aki grunts and puts the package on her bed and grabs her phone. As she swipes up, she realizes that her Mum texted her 2 minutes ago that she’s on campus. Panicked, Aki stands up and rips open the package and finds the clothes she rips the tag off and hastily puts them on. Then as luck might have it, Aki’s mum rings the doorbell. 
Here we go…’
Aki opens the door and sees her mum. 
‘How’s college?’
‘I see you liked the brand-new clothes I got you?’
‘Yeah, they're cool.’
‘Really?’ Aki’s mum’s left eyebrow raises. 
Suddenly, Aki feels nervous and uncomfortable.
‘...Yes, they are.’
‘That’s strange. I thought you would recognize them?’ Aki’s mum’s face gets serious and almost disappointed even.
‘What’s there to recognize?’
‘Those clothes are the exact same ones I got you last week? The ones you said you wore to every single class.’ Aki’s mum exhales.
Speechless, Aki stops to look at them. She realised she didn’t even look at her clothes before throwing them away.
‘Oh..’ Aki has an impulse to step away.
‘OH!? THAT’S ALL YOU HAVE TO SAY TO ME?’ Aki’s mum shouts.
‘What did you want me to say?’ Aki says, rolling her eyes.
‘Maybe that you’re SORRY? That you throw away the clothes that I spent my money on every week??’ She cries. 
‘Fine. I’ll apologize that you don’t understand me! Time and time again I’m trying to tell you that I’m different. I’m not like you, I enjoy crazy clothes and things. You keep trying to make me a version of you and it’s suffocating!! Honestly.’
Tears escape both of their eyes. But this time no-ones trying to make it up to the other. No one’s hugging each other. It’s just Aki and her mum standing on opposite sides of the room facing each other with betrayal and hurt in both eyes. 
‘I have been nothing but patient with you I-”
‘Sure, sure. You threw away all MY clothes and things and you didn’t give a care in this world.” 
Aki’s mum looks like she got punched by the strongest person in the world.
"I'm going to go home and hope you come to your senses by next week.’ Aki’s mum says. Her voice drowned into the pool of her tears. She picks up her money from the package and locks the door. 
Instead of a visit from her mother, Aki got a text. A text that changed everything. The text was from her Mum. 
Hey Aki.
By the time you read this, I’m probably not going to be here anymore. I can’t stand how much I’ve been deaf to your calls of help.  I wish I was more observant and actually listened to you. I can’t live with myself anymore and I hope you know that even though I’m not with you I am always going to be with you.
I love you so much and I hope your life just keeps getting better.

Sarah Mokhtar is a twelve-year old girl who was born in Singapore, raised in Shanghai and Singapore but has spent her last five years in Tokyo, Japan. She has been writing fiction since a very young age, and her writing has received some school awards as a result. In her free time, she likes to write and listen to music or go out with friends. Her favorite genres of books are Coming of Age and Sci Fi novels. She hopes that by sharing this story the readers will be able to take a glimpse into the wonderful world of Japan.

"Under My Umbrella, Broadgate Circus" by flatworldsedge is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.

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