They were best friends, then pen pals — until one day, the letters stopped coming | Finding Fukue

When I was nine years old, my parents got
English teaching jobs and moved us all
to Japan for a year. I was a blonde kid, and that made me of interest
to all the Japanese people like ‘cos they had
never really seen a blonde-haired person before. (piano playing) JESS: They would point
at me or my sister, touch my hair, talk at me-
I didn’t understand
anything yet. JESS:
The day after we arrived I went to school for the first
time and then that was crazy. JESS:
I didn’t feel that anyone was interested
in getting to know me, except for one person
and her name was Fukue, and we became best of friends. JESS: She was really
curious about me and that made me
really curious about her because she was so
different from everyone else. We’d go down the dirt roads,
we’d explore the little shrines. We would find frogs
in the rice paddies. JESS: She was
the closest friend that I had, and she was a creative,
beautiful human. After a year in Japan,
my family returned to Vancouver. Fukue and I became
pen pals immediately. And then all of a sudden,
I just stopped hearing from her. At the time, I just wondered
if something prevented her from writing to me or if she
stopped of her own will. JESS: Fukue was my
surrogate family at school, and I protected her
from the bullies. Now that we were apart, I was scared that the bullying
had started again. JESS: Years later, when I
became a professional musician, I reconnected with the koto,
and that made me think a lot about my time in Japan
and Fukue. This song is called
‘Lost Friends’ and I hope one day to find her. (drum beating) JESS:
Scarf. Guitar. Chord. JESS: So, I started
looking online for Fukue. There was no record of her name, There was no social media
accounts, no photos. Nothing. In the back of my mind,
I was always worried that something bad
had happened to her. So, I’m going back to Japan to
see if I can try and find Fukue. The most important
thing for me to say to her is how much she meant to me, and that how much
she affected my life, and showed me some important
lessons about humanity. I might not be able to follow
the trail to anything that is current, but maybe
Fukue is still out there. (accordion music) JESS: The place that we
ended up living is a little town called Saku. So Saku is referred to
as the boonies by Japanese people. Dirt roads, rice paddies
everywhere, little shrines… We were so notable as a family that we were asked
to be the stars of an educational video to teach
Japanese kids English. But that was of course when Saku
had absolutely no foreigners and it was a small,
rural village. It’s now a regular city
of 100,000 people, so finding Fukue
is going to be a lot harder than it would
have been before. JESS: Wow, this is what
it looked like, for sure. This is what
everything looked like. The first place I’m going to go is the school that Fukue
and I went to as kids. I have a meeting set up
with the principal, and I’m really hoping he can
give me some information that leads us to finding her. JESS: The morning of
the Halloween party me and Fiona woke up at 6:10
we put away our futon Made breakfast and ate it after we had prepared
and carved the pumpkin children had started to come. Ah Halloween! JESS:
Halloween party also. JESS: So when Fukue and I
would play after school, she would always come
to my apartment. The only time that I actually
came face-to-face
with that thought was when I was formally
invited to come to her house. When I got to the place,
it wasn’t a house at all- it was like a shack, basically. It was poverty. JESS: I remember just
standing outside the house, not knowing what to do. Before anyone inside saw me,
I just ran back home. Just realizing that
my best friend lived in this type
of a situation, and all of the things
that I’d heard, coming around the corner
at school and seeing kids surrounding her
and pointing at her and clearly saying
something not nice to her even though
I couldn’t hear it. JESS: What I saw that day
has never left my mind’s eye. JESS: Is there anything else
that comes up here? I see Iwamurada. JESS : I still sort of
speak Japanese like a kid, so I’ve brought along
a translator and guide, Ryo, to help out. JESS: We’re looking at
the yearbook I picked up from the school, and it shows the father’s name
of every student. So we looked that up online and
we found a record from 2000, which is 11 years later than
our nearest other record so that’s like
an improvement. Even if he has passed and so his
number isn’t listed any more, his wife might still live there
or maybe his son lives there. Maybe she lives there. I think we should go to the
personal residence address that’s listed. RYO:
93 2-10. JESS:
Ooh. Here we go! It just feels good to do
detective work, exactly. It’s kind of like
my childhood dream. All my childhood dreams
meshing together in one trip! JESS: Dammit!
This is definitely all new. RYO: According to the map,
it’s probably this house. JESS:
Right. Like this one. JESS: You know we probably
should have asked those women. JESS:
Oh really! Really! Wow! JESS: I can’t believe
that when we got to City Hall that there was a full press
conference waiting for me. The most important thing
about the press being here is that it makes me
really hopeful that we’re actually
going to find Fukue. JESS:
Fukue-san. I want to find you. (dramatic music) (cell phone ringing) RYO:
(speaking Japanese) JESS:
Okay, great. RYO:
(speaking Japanese) JESS:
Yes, please. JESS: So now,
like we gotta call her. JESS: I don’t think I actually
thought that this would happen. Like, I hoped but… JESS: I always felt
I left Fukue behind, knowing her life
in Saku was not easy. She never said anything to me
about hard things were. She was strong
way beyond her years. JESS: She could
be using her intelligence and her creativity,
and having a wonderful life. She might
have a family, she might have accomplished
all of her goals. But on the flip side, maybe
she doesn’t have a good life- that would be a crazy
smack in the face of reality. (telephone ringing) JESS :
I became emotional immediately when I came to this city because
it only existed in my memory and in my imagination. And then along with that came
this idea that like those times were a time
I could never access again and the most important person
to me from that time of course was Fukue. We just got
along so well again and easily. It was so natural.
It’s just unreal. She has a steady job,
a husband that loves
her so much, and two awesome kids. I think she loves
her life, and I think she has
a wonderful life. I’m so happy
that even though she had to drop out
of elementary school, she’s been able to get to
where she is today. It’s like definitely
renewed my belief in things turning out
in the way that is right. JESS :
Now that I’m back home, Fukue and I are going to
keep in touch regularly, like we did when
we were kids. She went through
such a rough childhood, and the fact that
she is where she is, despite what she was
up against, makes me so happy. (dramatic music)

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