Children and parents clad in miniskirts, tank tops, shorts are chattering away happily, waiting for the school bus to pick them up. An energetic group of moms, dads, boys, and girls from six years old to mid-late teens, their features indicating diverse ethnicities and different backgrounds — they all go to ASIJ, the American School in Japan. Who knows how many different passports will emerge from this group. Many versions of English are spoken, alongside a smattering of other languages.
The kids from Azalea Hills are among this group too. The area holds a large American School population. There is no indication of a bus stop on the street side but the pickup is easy to spot. It is right in front of the Tokyo jami, Turkish for mosque. The mosque front offers a welcoming open space for the American School kids to wait around. The Forever Forest Upper Field has been a center for the Muslim community since 1938.
“Prayers are like breathing to me” says a Turkish imam who works as a store clerk in a halal store in Shinjuku. A Saudi Arabian student goes to the Jami to attain peace of mind. Women from South East Asian countries working as maids or nannies for the rich English speaking population in the area flock there. There is not much attention paid to ethnicity here; and different cultural backgrounds all find peace here in Arabic, the language of the Koran.
The mosque is the style of the Ottomans — a symbol of Turkish pride. In fact, the Turkish government had brought over a hundred or so artisans to work on its reconstruction, which was completed in 2000.
A mother and daughter associate the Mosque with friendliness. Once, they had been taking a walk; the daughter was then four. She was attracted by the art of the buildings under construction. “Come, come,” said the artisans, the mother took up the invitation. They brought the mother and daughter up to the minaret, from where they saw Tokyo far below.
It would have been gorgeous had the sky been Turkish or maybe Mediterranean blue not the low white-grey tinged blue sky. A New Yorker working in a Shinjuku skyscraper points out from the 28th floor the yellow pollution-haze cloud from ground level up to about 200-500 meters, with blue sky above this haze cloud.
The artisans were so delighted to see the four year old having a great time. The girl and the artisans did not speak each other’s languages but they had a great time together, while the mother conversed with them in English. Guessing that their minds were also with their children back in Turkey, she wished their children the same happiness that they brought to her four year old. Ten years later, the daughter and her friends, all non-Muslim, were invited to a friendly iftar during Ramadan at the mosque. The door was open to any body, everybody.
The commuter trains roar, packed with salarymen on the elevated railways as American School kids wait for their bus. And the two intercultural communities comfortably share the space with smiles, respect, care. Occasional disturbances come from the bicycle-riding locals who expect to be treated as if they were forerunners in a king’s procession. They do not go around the kids but go through as to remind them arrogantly that the land is not yours, it is our king’s – don’t occupy.
For the bicycle-riding locals their thoughts probably don’t go beyond, “I am coming on a bicycle, get out of my way.” They don’t, won’t, and/or can’t conceive of the human/e beauty that the scenery offers.
The entrance of the mosque — the American School bus stop — is a space of hope.
Photograph by Joe Jones