Moeko’s Owl

Let me introduce you to Moeko, a ninensei I met last year. My very first week at her school, I was in the gym watching a Sports Day practice. She came and sat down beside me, and had a conversation with me – in English! With her level, I thought she was an exceptionally skilled sannensei, so I was shocked to find out she was an ichinensei.

In class she’s always very quiet. She barely smiles at some of my jokes and antics, which crack the other students up. Whenever we do a writing exercise, most students just do the required 3-4 sentences, but Moeko turns in two paragraphs. Sometimes she’ll come up to me after class, and ask me a question in English or just start a conversation.

Her birthday was in November. I congratulated her, and she asked me when mine was. I told her it was in January. She said, in English, “I will make a card and present for you. Please look forward to it.” I thought that was just about the sweetest thing I’d ever heard, but I certainly didn’t expect her to remember, much less actually give me something.

December had been particularly hard, since this was when the long and excruciating process of breaking up with my ex started. It finally ended on a Saturday, the day after my birthday. My ex had forgotten my birthday, and when I called her about it, I found that she’d spent the day fucking the 5th guy she cheated on me with, the one who would finally put the last nail in the coffin. I don’t remember Sunday, but I don’t imagine it was a particularly bright and chipper day.

Then on Monday, I went to Moeko’s class.

It was any other class, really. Moeko was her usual self, smiling awkwardly at my jokes and quietly doing her work. I remembered what she said back in November, but dismissed the thought. After class ended, she came up to me and, as she said she would, gave me a card and present. I was surprised. Not only did she remember, she carried through with it! I thanked her profusely, and returned back to the teachers’ room with my gift. And then I was floored.

Inside of a delicately wrapped package was a hand-made owl. Completely hand-made; there was nothing even remotely factory about it. There was also a hand-made little basket, with a scroll inside. The scroll read, in English, “This is the year of the cock. So this owl is our mascot.” Inside the card she’d made all sorts of really cute and skilled drawings, along with “Happy Birthday!” in English, and the one that really got to me, “If you are happy, I am happy, too.”

I couldn’t believe it. To get anything at all is extraordinary, but THIS?! It was simply amazing. Especially compared to how my ex had “remembered” my birthday just three days before. It was one hell of a contrast, and it’d be an understatement to say I was moved.

If you’ve read some of the other entries on this site, you may know that at times I am a nice guy. However, I come from a background where people never did anything for me, and I went out of my way to make people happy. That alone was enough for me; I didn’t expect reciprocation. But I found that when I went through rough times, those I did so much for were nowhere to be found. It hurt, a lot, and forced me to change who I was. No longer did I do things simply for people’s happiness; I didn’t do things for people at all. If I did, it was with, “What do I get out of it?” in mind. At times, I wasn’t even remotely nice to the general population.

Eventually and I was able to become less of a jerk, but I still didn’t do things for others unless they’d established themselves as a friend, and I saw some possible benefit for myself in it. Then my girlfriend came along, and slowly I opened up to her as I loved her. I went out of my way, pretty much all the time, for her – sacrificing a lot of time and money, among other things. She rarely if ever reciprocated, and it did bother me, but I held my ground and hoped one day she’d change and be more giving.

Then, that bitch hurt me in the worst possible way. I mean, I’ve been counselor to a lot of love problems, and I’ve heard a lot of downright shitty treatment, but I honestly can’t think of anything worse than what she did. Yeah, she’s a terrible person and I am in no way responsible for the break-up, but I was angry at myself. I’d done it again. I’d given my all for someone so wretched, so undeserving. More than her awfulness, that was eating me inside. I felt my heart turning black again, as I wondered what the point of ever being nice was.

And now I’ve got Moeko’s owl.

I sat there, trying to figure out why she would do this. The card alone must have taken hours to draw and color. I can’t possibly imagine how much effort she would have had to put into the owl and basket. Why? She knows I’m already very impressed with her. She knows I have no influence over her grades. There’s nothing in it for her… Why? I would have been thrilled if she’d given me a store-bought card and Hello Kitty, but she went through the trouble to MAKE all that stuff! Why? And then I came back to the card. “If you are happy, I am happy, too.”

It’s how I used to be.

I sat at my desk holding the owl, and my eyes filled with tears. I felt any darkness looming over my heart starting to dissipate. I couldn’t even think about my ex-girlfriend’s treachery. All I could do was look at this owl – this amazing little owl – and choke back tears. For once, someone’s kindness, someone’s sacrifice, had not been wasted.

When I saw her the next day, I told her really, truly, honestly thank you. That I loved the gift and it moved me very much.

She gave her usual sort-of-awkward smile and said in English, “I made it.”

I know.

The magnitude of the gift, and the timing… I don’t know if she will ever truly understand what she did for me. Maybe she doesn’t have to.

“If you are happy, I am happy, too.”

I don’t where my life’s travels will take me, and I can’t make any promises, or be certain of anything. There is one thing I can guarantee, though. No matter where I end up, Moeko’s owl will come with me. If I ever doubt myself, all I will need to do is look at it. And I will never, ever forget little Moeko. Never let the world change you, Moeko, because you have the power to save the world. I know, because you saved me.

  1. Jon
    June 18, 2010 at 1:03 am

    Any way to get the pics to work? Not necessary for the point of the story, but from what I remember they definitely added a lot to it.

    P.S. – Love your site. Very interesting learning a bit of the craziness of Japan itself, but your personality really makes it all so much more interesting. Thanks for putting forth the effort to keeping the content up despite all the hosting troubles and your recent techno-hermit trend.

  2. Harlem
    July 9, 2010 at 9:47 pm

    I have been closely watching your various sites since way back in 2005.
    In those almost 6 years, I never took the time to comment, since I didn’t have anything useful or interesting to add.
    I find that I must now break this cycle of silence. There I sit in my desk, having read this post for maybe the fifth or sixth time in that many years, and the tears are still forming in my eyes, the same way they were when I originally discovered it.
    This is definitely the most amazing and heart warming story you have ever written. The story is beautiful in itself, but the writing style you use here truly makes it special. I’m not the first, nor will I be the last to tell you that you really have a gift for telling stories.
    Your extravagant style, heavy on references and metaphors, is always a joy to read. But the writing you use here is simpler, purer, you just let the story tell itself. There is no need to add any flourish, and you know it.
    This contrast to your general writing style is, to me, what elevates this already powerful story to it’s true potential.
    Anyway, I hope you never put down the keyboard, and look forward to reading more of your crazy Gaijin antics as soon as possible 😉
    Best of luck to you.

  3. August 13, 2010 at 6:21 am

    I read this years ago, and teared up then, and I’m tearing up again now.

    Someone needs to give you book deal, seriously. I’d put down money for it. I can’t help but wonder if Moeko has any idea just how famous she’s become (so to speak) online.

    Thanks again for writing all of this for so many years.

  4. julielavoie
    September 19, 2010 at 3:13 am

    Wow, this post almost makes me cry, and then you hit me with the picture of that owl! wow. this post really touched me. thanks for writing it, and thanks to little Moeko for her owl, and just existing.

  5. October 27, 2010 at 12:56 pm

    Hey Az,

    I am in the same boat as Harlem and the other commenters – I stumbled upon your blog many years ago and I remember spending many hours reading through your blog, enjoying your fantastic stories and entertaining writing style. However I never thought to comment or send you an email until now.

    I still remember reading this exact post many years ago, and I remember when I finished, it was at that moment I thought – wow, how incredible would it be to become a JET? I remember looking into it, but I was still in highschool and realized that I had to be a college graduate to even apply, so I filed it away in the back of my mind.

    Well as luck would have it, somehow, inexplicably, I have managed to find myself here in Japan, as an english teacher on the JET programme. I’ve been here a scant 3 months and since getting here, I’ve been keeping a blog to write about my experiences. Today it occured to me to find your site again and re-read your old articles because I really enjoyed your writing style and wanted to pick up a thing or two. Just now, I managed to find this article again. While re-reading, I remembered how so many years ago, it was this exact article that ignited my desire to become a JET and come to japan. In many ways, I feel like I’ve come full circle now.

    I just wanted to thank you so much for writing this blog. Through whatever strange series of circumstances, I truly believe you are directly responsible for me being here in this strange, fascinating, technologically advanced yet unbelievably backwards and beautiful country. It was literally this post and Moeko’s owl that were the first time I can remember (very clearly) wanting to participate in the JET Programme.

    I really can’t thank you enough.

    – I suppose I should thank Moeko as well for her part in all this. That girl and her owl really do have the power to change the world. 🙂

  6. kyuri
    December 8, 2010 at 5:22 am

    I also want to leave a comment on this post. I read it a couple of years ago and it moved me then and it still moves me now. I cry every time I read this post. Especially recently I’ve been going through some hard times so when I find myself browsing your old articles again I feel I can relate to a lot of things. In fact because of recent happenings I feel like wanting to become an asshole too (when I looked back at your old editorial) but then I also remember a post about Moeko’s owl and here I am reading it again for the nth time (like many before me) and I also find myself warming up a little. The world seems like (maybe it is) a harsh cruel world and life is tough, people you regard as very important may not reciprocate those feelings, however if there are people like Moeko in this world then maybe just the chance to meet or pass by such people is a life worth living. I dunno, getting too philosophical or deep here but it’s truly how I feel after reading this post again and sorting out my own mixed feelings.

    So thank you for sharing this wonderful and pure true story. I hope Moeko is still out there living the life she wants and remains unchanged for the most part. 🙂

    By the way I’m also of the same category of people who’ve read your blog pre-Japan and now has ended up in Japan. I’ve come to see and understand many things about Japan that I read about in your blog but have never experienced it myself. Now I do and I must say, Japan really is quite the rollercoaster ride.

  7. TheOtherJN
    June 8, 2011 at 6:41 am

    It’s incredible the timing of these events are.
    I myself went out of my way to make people happy because to be honest, I haven’t had much happiness in my life.
    But there are not many people who would do the same, and gradually I started not to do those things anymore; I was too hurt by their apathy to try again.
    This story you shared really moved me deeply, and I wish you happiness, and Moeko happiness as well.

  8. The slow walker
    December 9, 2011 at 10:55 pm

    You’re a great writer, pure and simple. This sounds schmalzy I know but fuck it, I think you also have a beautiful spirit. I’m definitely down with Isaac’s comment above – there’s a book in here somewhere that should be written for sure! Just do it man! I’ve lived in Japan a long time and your posts have always given me a lift if and when I’ve ever felt a tad down about my ‘gaijinhood’. You really do capture the essence of this place with its occasional weirdness/ kookiness and WTF? moments but at the end of the day what really shines through is not only your humanity but also the many great things that ultimately happen to be true about Japan life. If you ever get this I’d be curious to know where you’re at and what you’re doing. Take care brother.

  9. Chell
    January 4, 2012 at 8:45 pm

    I wish I weren’t 6 years late on reading this, but still, I’m glad I read it at least. This story is so beautiful. Indeed, life as a japanese teacher seems to be fascinating, at least as told by you, haha. Makes me wonder how Moeko is doing…

  1. July 9, 2010 at 5:41 pm

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