Ohayou Gozaimasu Obaachan

I woke up early that morning, put on my layers while everyone slept, and stepped out into the January cold. Tokyo had not yet waken up. Only my footfalls echo down the stairs to the subway. The familiar transfer of train to train like clockwork, until I’m on the Yurakucho line. Ichigaya, Iidabashi, Edogawabashi --my stop. Up the exit and a few blocks down, I arrive at my destination, the Ishii home, where Lina’s grandmother still lives and where I was supposed to pick up a few things to bring back to Manila.

No one comes to answer the door for a while. Through the window on the door I could only make out a silhouette of Jojo, the blackest cat you’ll ever see. We stare at each other for a while, until someone comes to open up. Ohayogozaimasu obaachan, I greet her. With a smile from ear to ear she invites me in, and embraces me. I would have never expected that from a Japanese person, but there we were. I take off my shoes and she takes my coat, gesturing towards the the seat on the tatami mat. From the kitchen she takes a packet of powdered hot chocolate to show me and I nod. Hai, arigato. While she prepares our drinks I load a roll of Portra 400 in my camera, an RB67. A few minutes later she comes back with two cups, one for each of us, and sits across from me.

To tell you the truth, though I’ve been visiting Japan every year, I still barely knew enough Nihonggo to save my life. Obaachan takes her phone and puts on some two-way feature on google translate. ‘I have not spoken to anyone in a while,’ she says. Like this spent over an hour talking about everything from the temperature in Mount Hakone to Mongolian Sumo wrestlers, from the difficulties of learning Nihonggo to her upcoming trip to an onsen, taking a pause after each sentence while the app buffers. It was far from accurate. Most of the time we had to figure out what each of us really meant, and that was fine.

Somewhere in between I utter what is probably the only full sentence I know: shashin totte mo ii desu ka? Can I take your photograph? She obliges me and goes on to sit still, prim and proper. Sometimes, I think only old people remember the value of a single photograph, the time it takes. I don’t even have to ask her to smile because she already is. And though I would only be able to develop the film when I got back home, I knew it was good the moment I took it.

Before I leave she puts on google translate for the last time. She speaks to it softly, the opposite of that robotic monotone into which her words were about to be translated in. ‘Thank you, I will run away with a smile.’ And in google’s sublime inaccuracy I knew what she meant. I went home after that, feeling the same way.


27 January 2019
Mamiya RB67 Pro SD
Kodak Portra 400