Please note: names are given Western style: given name first, family name last. Consider this a convention of the translation.
"So this is the place," Stephen said when they reached the top of the hill. The street sloped down from there, and at the end was the school building. It had apparently been built in 1917, which made it about fifty years older than their school building in Phileas.
"Nihongo de hanashite kudasai," Emily, his sister, said. "It will make things easier."
Stephen let out a sigh. "All right," he said in Japanese. "We can speak English at home, can't we?"
"Probably not, we don't want grandpa and grandma to feel left out," Emily said, in Japanese. "They aren't as good with it as dad or we are."
"Can we at least go by our real names?" Stephen said. "I don't like being called Torai."
"But it is your real name," Emily said.
"My real middle name," Stephen said.
"I like Kaori," Emily said. "It has a nice ring to it."
"Seems weird that we're starting school in April," Stephen said. It was almost as strange as having to take the first semester of their sophomore year over.
"Yeah, well, new things starting in spring and all that," Emily said.
The first lesson of the day was math, and Stephen already felt out of his depth. Sensei Takahashi started with a quick review of what their classmates had learned the previous year. Stephen felt relief as he saw it was the advanced algebra and geometry he had learned in the fall semester back in the US. Then the teacher moved onto trigonometry, and then logarithms, and then vectors. He finally ended with limits; he said that now we had all the tools we needed to begin learning calculus. Stephen was sitting in a pool of sweat by that time.
During the break between lessons Sensei Takahashi took them out into the hallway. If this happened back in the states, Stephen would have expected the students to making a wooing sound, indicating that they were in trouble. The students either didn't notice, pretended not to notice, or didn't care.
"I couldn't help noticing that the two of you looked somewhat panicked during the review," Sensei Takahashi said.
"I don't know if I'm going to be able to keep up," Stephen said.
"I'm feeling kind of panicked myself," Emily said.
"Now you don't need to worry, your father arranged for me to talk to all of your teachers back at your old high school. Walther-san felt that you could keep up with the material as long as you got some tutoring in the requirements that you are missing," Sensei Takashi said. "With some hard work, you should be caught up in a month or so."
"What about the other subjects?" Emily asked.
"I think you should be fine in most of them; you'd certainly be ahead of the rest of the class in English," he said with a laugh.
Stephen replied with a weak smile.
"Did you have any idea what he was talking about in history?" Stephen asked in English.
"Nihongo!" Emily said with a frown.
"Fine," Stephen said in Japanese. "Did you recognize any of the things he was talking about?"
It was a little before noon, and class had broken for lunch. Because of the fair weather they were able to eat their lunch in the schoolyard. They found a couple of rocks near the outer fence and sat down to eat the bento boxes that their grandmother had made.
"He mentioned the Manji era, which I think was sometime in the 1700s," Emily said.
Stephen frowned emphatically. "I guess we should've studied some Japanese history, eh?"
One of the female students in their class was coming towards them.
"Excuse me, if I sat here, would it be well?" she said in English.
"It's all right, we speak Japanese well enough," Emily said.
"Please, have a seat," Stephen said, motioning with his chopsticks. Suddenly he wondered if that was considered rude. He'd have to ask grandpa when he got home.
"I'm Amaya Inoue, I'm in your class," she said, and then bowed her head. Stephen thought that her bow was a little deeper than was warranted.
"Pleased to meet you," Emily said, returning the head bow. "I'm Kaori Saitou, and this is my brother Torai."
"Pleased to meet you," Stephen said with a bow of his head.
"I heard you were Americans; are you from a family of emigrants?" Amaya said.
"Our father is Japanese, our mother is American. We're both American citizens," Emily said.
This is strange, Stephen thought. He couldn't claim to be an expert, but he suspected that Amaya's question would be considered extremely pushy and rude by Japanese standards. He couldn't figure out if Amaya thought the rules didn't apply because they were foreigners, or if she didn't care if she insulted them.
"Did you live in California?" Amaya said, her eyes wide.
"No, we lived in Wisconsin," Emily said.
"I've never heard of that place," Amaya said.
"It's in the north central part of the country," Stephen said, suspecting that "Midwest" probably wouldn't translate. "Near the Great Lakes. We're to the north of Chicago."
"Ah, Chicago!" Amaya said with a smile. "I've heard of that place; Jigen is from there."
Emily and Stephen both gave her a blank look.
"Is that so?" Emily said after a few moments of silence.
Stephen didn't look forward to talking about the homeland he was missing right now, so steered the conversation in a different direction. "Could you tell us what Sensei Takahashi was talking about last period? I'm afraid we're not too familiar with Japanese history."
"Oh, we're picking up from where we stopped last semester. We're discussing the Edo Period," Amaya said. Stephen noticed that she didn't sound nearly as enthusiastic as when discussing California or Chicago.
"Edo? Wasn't that the old name for Tokyo?" Emily said.
"Yes, the Edo Period was when the Samurai took over the government and formed the Tokugawa Shogunate. They drove all the foreigners out and sealed us off from the rest of the world," Amaya said. She frowned. "It sounds like a terrible time to have been alive."
Stephen soon found that not everyone in class agreed with Yamaya. After lunch he broke off from his sister and Yamaya-who by that time were chatting like old friends-and made his way towards the Men's room on the ground floor. As he got close to the hedge the separated the schoolyard from the street outside, he heard some familiar voices.
"I'm not saying that Takahashi is completely full of shit," a male voice said. "I'm just saying that he accepts popular opinion as fact."
Stephen recognized the voice but couldn't place it. He walked over to the hedge and leaned in, he was able to see through the maze of branches and leaves and made out a tall figure; he was wearing steel-rimmed glasses and smoking a cigarette.
"So there's a lot of controversy on stuff that happened 300 years ago?" another voice said, with a laugh.
"History is written by the winners, Toshi. Every story has as many sides as there are tellers," the tall student said.
Stephen moved so that a large limb was between him and the tall student; he couldn't risk a reputation as an eavesdropper. Of course why was he sticking around anyway?
"The Edo Period was the longest period of peace, and the most prosperous time in our country's history; and everyone acts like we should be ashamed of it," the tall student said.
"We were killing foreigners on sight," Toshi said.
"Yes, but only after they entered the mainland illegally," Stephen said. "Before the Tokugawas took over the country was being exploited by foreign traders. And we got off lucky, when you think about it; look at what was happening to China and India back then! We had every right to kick them out, and it isn't a coincidence that things suddenly got better once we ripped off the leeches that were feeding on the lifeblood of our country."
Stephen frowned; he didn't like the sound of this at all. He stood up and started to walk away.
"If only some things could be as easily undone," the tall student's voice carried over the hedge. "I really feel sorry for those mongrels."
Stephen stopped dead; he blinked several times. Was he talking about him and his sister?
"Yeah, but they're all like that in America, people came all over the world to conquer the New World," Toshi said.
"But they have Japanese last names; that means their father was Japanese. He might have even been native-born. To think that he deprived his children of the experience of being Japanese, just to marry some American tart," the tall one said.
Stephen seethed; his mother was not a tart!
"I dunno," Toshi said. "The girl is kind of cute."
"Well, uh, yes I'll admit that; but imagine how much prettier she'd be if she'd had a Japanese mother?" the tall student said. Stephen heard the sound of crushing gravel; the cigarette had been snuffed out. "Come on, we'd getter get back. Takashashi seems the punctual sort."
Stephen bolted towards the nearby entrance, not caring if he was heard of not; as long as the tall student didn't see him. He had skittered all the way back to his classroom and taken a seat before realizing that he'd forgotten to pee.
As hard as Stephen tried to concentrate for the next period, he was unable to stop thinking about what that jerk in the schoolyard had said about him and Emily.
He'd been to Japan three times, and had gotten used to being stared at in public. He was a foreigner, and naturally everyone was going to notice him. Some people had even struck up conversation with him. But no one had ever insulted him to his face like the boy in the schoolyard had done.
Wait, Stephen thought, he hadn't done that to my face. He didn't even know I was listening. How many of the people who had seen him on the streets had similar feelings? How many of the students sitting around him felt that he didn't belong there?
Stephen had been looking forward to English, which was next period, but now it was just another opportunity for him to stick out. He dreaded when the clock struck and everyone put their literature textbooks away.
"Now for this class we're going to rearrange the seating. I have all of your grades from the previous year; so depending on your mastery of English you will be paired up with someone who has either greater or lesser mastery of the language than your own," Sensei Takahashi said. He smiled. "Naturally the Saitou twins will be paired with someone of lesser mastery."
There was polite laughter, which Emily joined in on; Stephen simply scowled.
Emily was paired off with a girl with short hair called Megumi.
"Toru Saitou, you'll be paired with Aray Hiyama," Sensei Takahashi said.
Stephen looked around, no one had gotten up from their desk. "I'm afraid I don't know who that is. Is he here today?"
"Yes he is," a familiar voice said from behind him. "I'm right here."
Stephen numbly turned around and saw a tall figure standing behind him, from this angle the light from the fluorescents gleamed off his steel-rimmed glasses and hid his eyes.
"I'm Arata," the boy from the schoolyard said. "Pleased to meet you."
Continued in chapter 2