Kensen Explores North America
by Kensen Saito
After I finished my second year at university, I took all my savings and travelled through North America for the summer break. My travelling companion was an American man several years older than me: I had first met him when I was in Grade 8. I remember well the clean-shaven GI with a crew cut who came to visit our family during his shore leave in Tokyo on the way to the Vietnam War. He was from a naval family in Minnesota. When he met me at the San Francisco airport, the clean-cut soldier, to my amazement, had turned into a complete hippie with long hair, jeans and a bandana. We travelled across the country in his van, stopping often to pick up hitchhikers who traded marijuana for rides. I did not understand their hippie jargon very well. I was quite put off by all the drugs, and the whole hippie culture was confusing and alien to me. In Japan, I had been raised with a strong work ethic. I could not understand these young people we encountered everywhere we travelled who had no future plans beyond the next joint and who begged for money on the street with no thought of making any contribution to society. It struck me as a kind of social illness.
While that trip was not a happy experience for me, it did leave me with some important impressions. I saw Toronto for the first time when I visited my sister, who lived there already and worked as a waitress for a mere $60 a week. Even though it was only $20 more than she would have received on unemployment insurance, she preferred to do that rather than do nothing. Compared with Tokyo, I found Toronto very attractive because it was spacious, with cleaner air and lots of trees and parks. During that visit, I offered some shiatsu treatments, and people really seemed to like them. One was my future brother-in-law who ran a successful pizzeria in the Yorkville district of the city. He was suffering from neck pain as the result of a car accident. The people I treated encouraged me to come back to Toronto and continue with shiatsu, but at that time it was only a small part of my life. After leaving Toronto, I travelled west alone by bus and was very impressed by the country I saw through the window; the Canadian Rockies were the most beautiful sight I had experienced in all my travels. I liked Canada and its natural areas very much. I felt I wanted to come back someday.