Joshi Kōsei — The Autumn Child
He arrives at Haneda airport at 9am on a direct flight from Los Angeles. He’s here for a week to work on an ad for a European cologne which is being introduced to a Japanese audience. A woman named Akiko meets him in the arrivals hall. She is about as old as he is and successful enough to have her own apartment.
She hands him a business card which he reads with care so as to indicate that he has taken note of the required business customs in Japan.
“What does your name mean?”
She speaks with care, “It means, autumn child.”
“Were you born in the autumn?”
“No,” she says unapologetically.
They travel by train directly from the airport to the offices of the agency with whom he’ll be working for the week. After brief introductions where his hosts take pleasure in pronouncing his name correctly he excuses himself to go to the restroom where he takes one of the vials of cocaine from his pocket. He speaks into the mirror, “Easy now, this has to last the week”.
The day passes uneventfully as they make preparations for the first day of production to follow.
At around 7pm Akiko returns to guide him to his hotel , “I hope that you will rest well tonight.”
“I hope so too,” he says, “although the sun is just about to come up in LA. We’ll see how it goes. Maybe I’ll go shopping. Can you explain to me how to get to Akihabara?”
“You’re looking for a camera?” she asks — the Akihabara district is the epicentre of electronics goods stores.
“Yes,” he lies.
She takes out a pen and marks the subway stations. As she hands the map back to him she says, “The name, Akihabara — it means ‘autumn leaf land’.” He thanks her for the directions.
At about 11pm (7am West Coast) he leaves his hotel — his nose numbed by the white powder — and spends 20 minutes moving through the subway until he emerges at the neon towers of Akihabara. Within minutes he finds what he’s looking for. They are dressed in their school uniforms, standing around in groups of two or three — some of them hand out flyers that invite passersby into neon-lit parlors where, for a fee, businessmen can have conversations with teenage girls to slake their thirst for social interaction and their desire to be in proximity of a girl.
JK date girls spend their nights in Akihabara and offer paid “walking dates” to passersby. They are not prostitutes, all they do is talk and listen.
He has come here to speak to a JK girl. But tonight he does not have the courage to go up to any of them and so keeps his distance and only observes them; their affected mannerisms and deliberate glances. He’s back at his hotel by 2am where he forces himself into fitful sleep.
The next few days pass in a blur of photography and rushed lunches — his role is simply to position the product correctly under the glaring studio lights guided by his expert eye for angles and colours.
Each day he spends a few minutes talking to Akiko, either over lunch or in the hallways. She is always perfectly serene in the conformity of her business attire. And each night he returns to Akihabara where he tries to understand the JK girls at a distance. On the third night he summons the courage to accept a flyer from one of them, the girl giggles and gestures for him to take a photo with her. He joins the scrolling list of hundreds of tempted men on her phone’s camera roll.
And then, on the fourth night, he sees her.
At first he does not recognise her without the subdued makeup and clothing of her daytime persona but then the distinct lines of her cheekbones make it clear that it is Akiko. She is standing next to an anonymous JK girl.
She stares blankly into the night, a slim Capri cigarette between her fingers, and is dressed in black pants and a black blouse that reveals a portion of her neck.
He turns immediately and retreats back to his hotel.
Friday is his last day in the office and he spends it going through a final set of proofs with the team, settling on the image that will soon be broadcast via magazine pages and billboards.
He arranges to meet Akiko for lunch.
“I haven’t yet found a camera I want to buy.”
“Too many to choose from?”
“Yes. It’s overwhelming but I’ll go back to Akihabara tonight.”
She looks directly at him.
In the early evening a summer shower rains down on the streets of Tokyo leaving them glistening and noisy under the wheels of cars.
At 11pm he emerges from the subway and immediately starts combing the streets for her. He finds her in a doorway at the top of a short flight of steps, again standing next to a JK girl. She is again dressed in all black in a glistening black PVC biker jacket and with a black choker around her neck.
Emboldened by the cocaine he walks over to her. She notices him as he approaches and puts her hands into the pockets of her jacket. He stops at the base of the steps and looks up at her. She looks at the uniformed girl next to her and then back at him.
“Do you want her?” she asks.
He is taken aback by her brazen stare — the diametric opposite of the demure eyes that he encountered over the last few days.
“What is her name?”
Akiko speaks to the girl who giggles and then replies, “She is summer child.”
He smiles nervously and looks away. She laughs at his shyness and answers the question for him, “No, you do not want her.”
“How much does a walking date cost?” he asks.
“With her, not much. With me, all your money.”
“I only have a credit card,” he admits, but then adds, “And a subway token.”
“Come,” she says and walks down the stairs and past him. He follows her sheepishly. They walk along the wet streets in silence. Akiko lights a cigarette without offering him one and then says, “You’re not the kind of person who I would have thought would be interested in these girls.”
“I’m not really but there’s something about them, something that it says about Tokyo.”
“Something that it says about Japanese men is what you mean.”
“Yes,” he admits, “It somehow seems innocent. But it isn’t.”
“Everyone has their own loneliness,” she concludes.
After a few more minutes of silence he says, “Can I ask you a question?”
“Were you a JK girl?”
“Oh, I just thought..” — but she interrupts him, “They are toys, I like them,” and then stops and turns to him, “What do you like?”
With nothing left to lose he pulls the last vial of cocaine from his pocket and shows it to her. She laughs out loud, “Americans!”
Now, with both of their defences stripped away, the conversation flows easily as she talks about Tokyo and the Japan she grew up in and, finally, herself. He listens intently, all the time aware of the angular shape of her face and outfit and the imagined curves of her body beneath the sharp lines of her jacket and pants. They stop at one of the never ending parade of vending machines to buy more cigarettes and she notices him looking at one of the machines that sells alcohol; beer and saké. She slides in between him and the vending machine and buys four glass cups of the rice wine and hands him two after which she opens and swallows the remaining two. The colorless liquid burns his throat and she laughs at him.
And then she leans back against the vending machine and pulls at his collar, “Then. Not a JK girl but you do want me,” she asserts. He nods.
She leads him to a karaoke bar where they push past the assembled punters to a booth at the back. She pushes him down onto the couch and then climbs up onto it so that she straddles him, her crotch inches away from his face. She unbuttons her jeans and pushes them down just enough to expose her vagina and then pulls his face into her. He finds himself unable to resist, startled by her measured aggression. Her pubic hair chafes against his face as he laps at her clitoris, desperate to not disappoint her. She holds his head firmly against her as he strains to get his tongue to part her labia. She keeps him in place like this for an eternity until he can feel her pelvis shudder in orgasm at which he grabs onto her, not wanting to let the moment go. She laughs out loud, entirely unapologetic at having used him exclusively for her own pleasure. He nestles into her with gratitude for having been used in this way, set free in this neon-lit city.
Later she allows him a kiss and then sends him on his way back to his hotel in the early morning hours down subway stairs to the rushing cars filled with politely drunk commuters. He’ll never speak to her again, just as it should be. She will remain entirely unknowable in this permanently foreign city.