Oh, my son loves Japan!" she says, her voice soaring. "He's been studying Japanese, all by himself, and he went there recently actually for the first time, and he said he just felt immediately at home there, you know really comfortable. I mean with him it's mostly the, the, the-"
My brain silently fills in the next word: anime.
"The animation and so on, you know he's really into technology. I mean he's only seventeen, you know so who knows what is going to happen. But it does seem like, you know, a real thing for him."
"Right," I say, and I nod. "That's great."
Sometimes at times like these, what fills my head is the things I do not and could not ever say. For example: "You have no idea how many stories I've heard exactly like that one!" Or: "You know, even though I'm generally reluctant to admit the existence of 'types' among people, I'm often shocked by the parallels that exist between the kind of young men who like anime and all things Japanese, to the extent that I sometimes struggle to believe that a group of people with such intensely similar interests are in fact individuals." Certainly I do not say: "And what would you like to bet that he ends up marrying a Japanese woman and becomes an academic teaching the world about Japanese culture while she gives up her job to bring up his children?" But even if these things flicker through my mind, I'm not anywhere near as rageful as any of that makes me sound.
In fact, if anything, what I feel in this particular moment is something like envy, for this son of hers that I've never met, I understand that taking refuge in Japan and being shielded from the demands of full adulthood is a privilege offered to predominantly white, educated, Anglophone men, because they are deemed the most desirable that the world has to offer; that it feeds off power relations that date back to the American occupation and beyond, and which hew closely to the colonial paradigm even if there are important differences (and even if Japan also has a history of colonialism of its own to reckon with); and that even leaving all of this aside, this Peter Pan status is not something I am interested in. And yet I can't help but look at the sort of person who feels "immediately" comfortable in Japan and wish that I had felt like that, only because it might validate the way I've dedicated a lot of my life to the country, but because the security of that sensation in itself feels like something I would love to experience.