Yua spent every summer in Japan with her grandmother and her aunts. While her small handful of friends back home thought it sounded glamorous, they didn't realize that it was the humid, monsoon season. They also didn't realize that she was required to go to school while she was there.
There was a train line that went between her school and where she stayed in her family, but it was always so crowded that she preferred to walk home by herself. It wasn't much of a long walk, but she did end up having to walk through the Aoyama Cemetery. It was frequently so humid that she'd stop by the vending machines outside of the cemetery and grab a Calpis Soda. She'd guzzle down the soda and put her can in the recycling bins right next to the machines, since it was considered rude to walk around drinking or eating. She especially didn't want to commit a faux pas in a cemetery.
Yua made her way up the stairs to her aunt's condo and let herself in. She took a shower and a bath before everyone else got home, and put on her regular clothes, safely putting her uniform in the pile for dry cleaning. She put up her long hair in a bun and did her homework as she waited for her cousins and her aunt to come home. When they arrived, she spent most of the rest of the evening taking care of her cousins while her aunt crankily worked away in her home office.
Occasionally, they would take the car to Kanagawa on weekends where her aunt had another residence. Her cousins, at that point, where shepherded around by their nanny, giving Yua a brief break away from homework and babysitting.
As usual, she popped in her headphones and walked as far as she could with her iPod shuffle playing rock and dance music. Eventually, she found an area with many trees and plenty of shade. She didn't know if it was a designated park or not, but she made her way in anyway. Nobody ever tried to stop her, and she saw no signs saying that she couldn't.
She found her favorite pear tree, with it's white flowers where fruit would eventually emerge by the time she left back to the United States. She sat with her back against the tree's trunk, and took out her headphones. She relaxed her body and silently, with her eyes closed, breathed in and out like her grandmother taught her to. Her grandmother was a devout Buddhist, while none of her children cared for religion, spirituality, or meditation at all. It was her connection to her grandmother that was her saving grace. Otherwise, her aunt Akiko didn't care for the little half breed staying under her roof during the summer.
Despite her days being full of other schoolchildren, and her nights full of watching her younger cousins, she felt so terribly alone. She didn't have that many friends back in the States, and had a fraught relationship with her own father, but she still felt this gnawing loneliness eating at her. Back in the States, she looked too foreign. In Japan, she was clearly a half-breed. No matter where she was, the accident of her conception and birth were somehow her fault.
The pear tree didn't care. The pear tree gave shade to anyone who sat underneath it. Yua took solace in this during their weekends in Kanagawa while she meditated in silence.
Years later, her dear grandmother passed away. Her aunt Akiko got her a one-way ticket to Tokyo. Since Yua no longer had her grandmother's protection, she had to save up and use her frequent flier miles to get herself back home.
After the funeral, Yua, for the first time, got to see Tokyo on her own without her cousins in tow. She loved her cousins, but it was decidedly difficult to watch several children on a train while trying to get them to the Ghibli museum.
Yua went through Akihabara, unimpressed, and made her way all the way up to Ueno park. She went through the zoo, upset at the conditions the animals were in, so she quickly left. She put away her camera and visited Kannon's shrine. Kannon is the bodhisattva of compassion, often characterized by statues of her with many arms reaching out to help people. This always resonated with Yua, despite her status as a heretic. She paid her respects to Kannon, and walked along the pond in Ueno parks where couples were out on the water in paddle boats.
For the first time ever, instead of taking a family car, since she was no longer considered family, Yua took the train into Kanagawa. She watched as the large statue of the Buddha loomed in the distance above the trees, and delighted in stepping out of the train on her own, to walk to a hotel she secured on her own. She ran low on money, so she subsisted on microwaved noodles and mass-made onigiri from the closest 7/11 and Family Marts. Every bit of cheap food felt like freedom. She was saddened that this would make it difficult to stay in contact with her cousins, but she delighted in her freedom to move around as she please.
She didn't know how long it would be until she could afford to come back to Japan, so she walked her old path to the pear trees, and sat with her back against her favorite one. She looked up at the white blooms, wondering how they could possibly turn into fruit.
She closed her eyes and meditated. That was no longer her concern. She took some deep breaths, and gave a temporary goodbye to her favorite pear tree. Eventually, she got up, checked out of her hotel, and took trains from Kanagawa, to Tokyo, and then to Narita to return to the States. As the plane descended into the clouds, she felt both loneliness and peace. She knew she'd see the pear tree again one day, but that the next time, it would be on her own terms.