Sunday, 14 May 2017
When Ai Met Yu; Part 4 - Family Matters
Airnori Uchida is a freeter trying to begin his working life in Tokyo - he is also gay, and struggles with understanding where reality and fantasy must separate. By chance, he meets up with an old friend from university in Yoyogi Park. A country boy from Kansai, Airnori and Yusuke Ishinori become firm friends, and Yusuke even saves Airnori from his gym teacher’s perverted attentions.
The two agree that Airnori will go on a three-week visit to Yusuke's home in Kansai. Meeting Yusuke's family, Airnori learns that Yusuke is also gay, and unlike Airnori has complete confidence in his identity. The two revealed their feelings for each other, and one night the two make love. Though nervous, Airnori is guided by Yusuke, and learns the true feeling of love.
As Airnori becomes certain of his sense of self and Yusuke confirms his love for him, the two decide to take the next step. Yusuke - longing to see Airnori again - decides to make a visit to Tokyo. Meeting Airnori's family, Yusuke becomes more and more certain that they should be together. Airnori asks the question in both their hearts - “Do you think we could spend more time together?”
Read Part 1; A Country Boy here, Part 2 - Kansai Reservations here, and Part 3 - Tokyo Resolution here.
The question surprised me a little. “It depends. I mean, if it’s just visits like this, then I don’t know. We’ve both got our own careers to think of. But besides that, if we’re really gonna make a go of this, I want us to understand one thing. I don’t want this to be some whirlwind romance. If there’s anything here, I’d like to know whether it’s substantial or not. I know I’m sounding like some BioWare character, but sometimes they hit the nail on the head.”
“Guess they do. Well....” Airnori shuffled a little closer. “I’d like it to be more than just brief visits. I want this to have... a permanence.”
The two of us were within inches of each other now. I bent close and kissed him, then we were in each other’s arms. It felt right and proper, and be damned with anyone else’s opinion. Ten minutes later, we were just lying still in each other’s arms, taking comfort from our mutual presence. Suddenly Airnori spoke.
“I’ll tell my family tomorrow.”
“You.... Eh? This is sudden.”
“I don’t want to hide it from them. I want them to know. I’ll be finding happiness with someone I love. Who cares whether they’re a girl or a guy.”
I smiled. “That’s the Ai I know.”
We spent some little time like that, lying together, comfortable with each other’s company, a true expression of love.
The next day I didn’t see Airnori at all. I didn’t want to speculate what was happening, but all the same that night I had unsettling dreams. I think I’d been watching too much IS-related news last thing before bed or something, because those dreams were pretty disturbing. The next day, I went to Yoyogi Park for a walk, and saw Airnori sitting by himself on the bench where we had met by chance nearly two months before. He was depressed, drooping so that his fine frame looked as if someone had bent it. I approached, concerned.
Airnori looked at me, and I was shocked to see tears in his eyes. I sat down and put an arm round his shoulders at once. Almost at once, Airnori buried his head in my shoulder and his back heaved with silent sobbing. I didn’t know what to do, but I felt suddenly afraid of being seen. Whether gay or not, these kinds of displays are not for the public walks of a Tokyo park. I steered Airnori into a quiet corner I remembered within a stand of bamboo, and we found a leaf-covered seat waiting for us. Once there, I gently asked what was wrong. Airnori had to force the words through his sobbing.
“I... I went home. I decided yesterday was a good time. When Dad and Hiroe were there, I decided to tell them. I told them in the best way I could. I told them I wanted to spend my life with you, that I loved you. They didn’t say anything for a few seconds, then Hiroe nodded and grinned like she always does. She’d always support her big brother. But Dad just stayed quiet. He did nod eventually, and said... Oh God, he said he understood. Yu, I don’t know what to do!”
He was on the point of bawling for a moment. I embraced him, knowing what he feared. The displeasure of a father is one of the last things wanted in Japan for whatever reason. Being gay would only make things worse if the wrong messages were displayed. I didn’t know how to handle it. It was all like some weird dream. I would have gone with him had I been more confident in my ability to win over any resistance there might be. But I also had faith that the family of Airnori would be as open and casual as he was. That was the impression I’d received from my visit there when I first reunited with Airnori. Was I wrong?
That night, I insisted that Airnori stay in my room. I gave some reason to the hotel staff and Airnori was installed in my room. It wasn’t quite the done thing, but I didn’t care. He needed a friendly face. Before we left, he told me he had just gone out first thing that day and hadn’t eaten a thing since yesterday. I took him to the nearest ramen bar and prayed he wouldn’t start crying into the ramen in full view of all the customers. Thankfully he controlled himself admirably, and I made a point of steering him away from any alcoholic drinks – the last thing a depressed or upset person needs is an expensive depressant.
It was the next day that I received a text. I didn’t tell Airnori who it was from. I said it was an old friend, and that he should get together with one of his local friends. He did, and after I’d seen him safely into the care of Ryuji – a man I remembered from university – I went to Airnori’s family apartment. There, I was met by Daisuke Uchida. He said his daughter was out, and wanted to talk about Airnori. The way he said ‘talk’ made me dread the exchange. Once we were both seated on opposite sides of the Uchida family kotatsu, with a cup of tea in front of me, Uchida-san spoke directly to me.
“I’ve heard a lot about you, Ishinori-san. You’re a close friend of Airnori. In fact, yesterday he told me you were his lover.”
“I can’t deny it, Uchida-san. I love him, he loves me. It’s because of him that I’m here at all.”
“I understand. I thought I hadn’t left a good impression.”
“That’s his impression.”
“I’m sorry if I caused him grief. If Akane were still alive, she would’ve made that exchange go a lot smoother.”
“My late wife.”
“If you would, I wish to tell you a story.” Uchida-san’s eyes closed. “Many years ago, this young and foolish man without any family or title fell in love with another woman – he was so besotted with her that he dreamt of her every night and wanted to see her every day. Her family didn’t want her to marry someone like him, someone from a low family. Her family were important, had connections, wanted a bright future for her. As the law was on her side, she defied her parents and ran away with the young man. They set up home in Tokyo and led a happy life for many years. One of the things they agreed upon was that they would never restrict their children as her parents had tried to do. The woman’s name was Akane Kato, and the man’s was Daisuke Uchida.”
I understood what Uchida-san was saying. I picked up the cup in front of me, took a slight sip of its dark and rich contents. My next words came stiffly.
“So you do not object?”
“To be honest,” Uchida-san suddenly smiled. “the main reason I didn’t react that strongly was because I’ve known for so long, and it was a relief that he finally accepted it and found someone he loved.”
I almost dropped the cup. “Eh?!”
“I’ve known since he was a high schooler.” Uchida-san’s tone relaxed. “I’ve known he held strong attachments to men, and I was more than willing to accept him. I heard that one my great-aunts loved another woman, but that was before woman had the freedoms they have now, and even today it’s difficult. You’re lucky being men.”
“Trust me, I wish it wasn’t so.”
“I don’t approve of the imbalance any more than you do. But listen – if your family is happy with you, I’ll not prevent you two from getting together. I’ll support you if you need it, and you’ll always be welcome on my home. To be honest, I’d imagined having a son-in-law like you. Just didn’t entirely expect it to be Airnori bringing you to my door.”
I chuckled. “Not the standard scenario, I agree.”
“There is one thing I can’t help with.” said Uchida-san, suddenly grave. “And I think you know what that is.”
“I know.” I said. “We can’t marry.”
“I wish you could, believe me. But if you need help with the koseki formalities if that’s the route you choose, I’ve got a good grasp of law. I can also help look up places to live where you and Airnori wouldn’t be short-changed by the civil law.”
“Thank you, Uchi–... No, not now. Given the circumstances, I think I can say this now. Thank you, Father. For everything.”
I bowed my head. It was the first time I’d ever bowed to anyone outside my teachers and immediate family. But then, wasn’t Uchida-san part of my family now? As I left, Uchida-san asked me if I could bring his son home so they could talk face to face. I said yes, and he shook my hand warmly. He may appear like a stone pillar, but he’s a kind man in so many ways.
When I was shown out, I almost ran back to that bench in Yoyogi Park where I guessed Airnori would have gone. I saw him there, and saw that he was still looking depressed. I told him everything about my meeting with his father. For a second, he didn’t seem to believe me, then I grabbed his hand and all but pulled him home. I knocked on the door, and as it opened I pushed Airnori forward a little. Father and son stood face for face for a little while, then I left. But before I was completely out of view, I glanced back and saw something. Uchida-san put his arm around Airnori’s shoulders and guided him inside. I smiled. It would be alright.
It was another day or two before I saw Airnori again, and he was over the moon, almost dancing into my hotel room and telling me everything about his conversation with Uchida-san. Things had gone better than even I expected, and when Hiroe came home, she was ecstatic too, and pledged that she would help in any way possible. As if we really needed help, it’s not like we would be dependants just because we went outside social norms. As we sat on the bed and talked, Airnori finally forwarded Uchida-san’s most pertinent question.
“He wants to know, and so do I, whether we’ll be using the koseki or not.”
I’d thought about it since that day. The koseki would make things simpler, but I felt like it would be a betrayal of some kind either of me or Airnori. I didn’t want that for either of us. After all, there were places in Japan that didn’t have to have two men bound by the ritual of the koseki.
“I.... don’t think we’ll be needing it.”
“Yeah.” Airnori grinned. “That’s what he said you’d say.”
He hugged me, and I felt relieved. It felt like a dream coming true, with everything falling into place. That night, he didn’t go home. He had told his family he might not be back that night. That night, on that bed, we made love. Oh, how we made love. I didn’t expect anything like it. I’ve already said that being in bed with a man is exhilarating, but in that moment we weren’t men or women, just two people in the throws of love.
The following morning, I woke up and wondered if that entire episode and everything before had been just a dream. It was more than likely. But I felt a hand reach into my hair, turned my head, then bent close and kissed Airnori. He had shared my fear, but we each spoke at once.
“It wasn’t a dream.”
When I did eventually go home to Kansai, I didn’t anticipate any resistance towards my match. And there wasn’t. Not from my Sensei, not from my family. It was wonderful, and my sisters desperately wanted to meet Airnori’s sister Hiroe. Over the next week, we arranged a meeting. Airnori and his family would come down to Kansai for a week’s stay, and we would arrange a party where the two families could meet up properly. That week came faster than I could have imagined, and when it happened, it was a properly enthusiastic party. The families greeted each other, talked, pondered the future of us two.
Airnori and me spent time getting to know those who would be our new siblings-in-law. I’ve got to say I loved Hiroe, and Airnori told me he still enjoyed my sisters’ conversation and humour. In general, it was wonderful. I also got a chance to talk with my Sensei, and it was then that some concrete details emerged. Apparently one of my Sensei’s closer comrades said there was a well-paid vacancy at their art company in Iga in Mie Prefecture. It was a dream-come-true. And I remembered something I’d read a few years before about Iga recognising same-sex couples and granting them some of the same rights as normal married couples.
“You would be happy there, yes.” said Sensei, as if she had only just thought of it herself. “I wish you good luck in your profession. And your love life.”
It felt right: it was still within my country comfort zone, it was within easy reach of Tokyo and Kyoto, and it was a friendly city. I thanked my Sensei, and all she did was nod as if my answer had been a foregone conclusion. I’m now wondering whether she wangled the position for me in advance. I’ve never found out.
Airnori and me moved into our new home three months later, when my apprenticeship was complete. It was difficult at first, adjusting to a life so far from either of our homes. But we had each other, and we knew what we wanted. During that time, Airnori actually did something I’d suggested; he went back to his mangaka dream. He got writing, and decided to create something realistic. He said it was based on us.
“Don’t write everything in.” I said. “They wouldn’t publish outside of bara.”
We both laughed at that. It was a fun joke.
I think... the last thing I want to record here is this. Three months after we had fully settled in, Airnori had done us a good dinner after I’d come back from a difficult day at work. Our company had been contracted to do the majority of artwork and designs for a major multimedia project, and I’d been lumbered with the task of creating supporting and minor character designs while one of the more senior artists handled the main cast. That night, Airnori didn’t pressure me at all, nor did I pressure him. We both just felt like it. As the moon shone above, I lay in Airnori’s arms, fondling his hair, and bent close to him.
“Just know. Whatever happens. Everything was worth it.”
“I love you, Ai.”
“I love you too, Yu.”
We kissed. And the night passed well. Like so many days and nights to come.
Airnori Uchida published his first one-shot manga a year after moving to Iga with Yusuke. It was taken up by Shonen Jump, who later commissioned a full forty-chapter manga based on the one-shot’s premise. His real-world-set shonen manga, ‘The Flower of Kansai’, was praised for its emotional sensitivity and won numerous awards, kickstarting Uchida’s prolific mangaka career.
Yusuke Ishinori gained notoriety on the multimedia project for his character designs and environmental artwork. He was soon asked to design the main characters of a new project, and would become a senior artist in the company. He went on to earn international acclaim and lucrative commissions for his artwork, and would even collaborate with notable mangaka and artists of the day.
While the exact details haven’t been released for private reasons, it is known and commonly attested that Airnori and Yusuke live together happily in Iga.