Big Fun in Little Tokyo
By Trina Marie Phillips
Kimiko bounced up out of the chair as soon as her mom finished her braids. Today was her ninth birthday and Oba was visiting special, just for her. They were going to spend the day together in Little Tokyo, shopping and eating hover sushi. But most of all, Kimiko wanted to show Oba her high score on Dragon Chase, the flying dragon machine at VRcade. She'd spent all her allowance and all week working at it, and was really hoping no one had beat it yet.
"Calm down, Kimiko," her Mom said. "Remember, your grandma isn't a spring chicken. Don't run her ragged."
Kimiko gave a frustrated sigh. "I know, Mom. Let her set the pace."
"Yes, and don't inundate her with a bunch of VR games. Growing up she only had an Atari 2600."
"I won't." Kimiko couldn't hide her disappointment.
At that moment, the doorbell rang. It had to be Oba! Kimiko raced downstairs all smiles, her previous disappointment forgotten.
By the time she got to the bottom of the stairs, Dad had already let Oba in. Kimiko spread her arms wide and assaulted her with a giant hug that Oba enthusiastically returned.
"Are you sure you two are going to be okay by yourselves today?" Dad asked.
Oba smacked him on the arm. "You should be asking the town if they're ready for us!"
Dad put his hands up in surrender like he always did with Oba. "I guess I should." Dad looked at Kimiko. "Did you finish your homework?"
"Good. We'll do cake and gifts when you get home."
Kimiko slipped on her shoes and she and Oba were out the door in a minute flat. Oba's self-driving car was the coolest. She called it her little cherry blossom because it was dark red with soft pink upholstery. Kimiko wasn't even done telling Oba about all of her big plans for the day before the car was dropping them in front of the Higashi Hongashi Temple. Once they were safely on the sidewalk, Oba told the car to go park itself.
"I hope you don't mind," Oba said, "but it's been a long time and I want to pay my respects."
Kimiko bit her lip. A temple? But there were so many fun things to do. Oba tilted her head in that way that she used only for Kimiko when she was pulling rank. Oba wouldn't have been half as patient with her father.
"Anywhere you want, Oba."
Oba gave the slightest nod and they entered the temple.
Kimiko had never been in the temple before. The outside was fairly simple so she was surprised to find so much gold carving inside. The sculptures were actually kind of pretty.
They sat on dark wood benches in front of a sort of shrine. Kimiko wasn't sure what she was supposed to do, so she copied everyone else in their silence.
"They replaced the woodwork since I was here last. Looks nice," Oba said softly.
As they sat there in silence, the gentle whir of servos approached. A short, golden, humanoid robot put its hands out in a greeting gesture. Its digital blue eyes were large and friendly.
"Would you care for assistance with your meditation, or like a thought for the day?" it asked Oba.
Oba pulled back, astonished. "A robot monk? I've never seen such a thing."
"There are robots everywhere, Oba."
"Yes, but giving spiritual guidance?"
Kimiko shrugged. She didn't know what the big deal was. "Give it a try."
Oba looked the monk-bot up and down. "Okay, what's the meaning of life, the universe and everything?"
"The purpose of life is to strive toward enlightenment and end suff…"
"Wrong!" Oba said. "It's forty-two." She grumbled. "AI's used to know that."
The monk-bot's eyes spun in little spirals.
Kimiko shook her head. "That's an old joke. Give it a real chance."
"Fine. How about a profound thought for my granddaughter, here?"
The monk-bot looked at Kimiko and said, "The only real failure in life is not to be true to the best one knows."
Kimiko had to think about that. It meant that you should always be the best you can be. That was what she wanted to show Oba, her best score on Dragon Chase, but they were stuck here.
Oba gave an approving nod. "Not bad." She patted the bot on the head. "You can go." The monk-bot whirred over to its next subject. If robots could be pleased to escape a conversation, Kimiko bet this one was.
"Speaking of best, I want to show you…"
"I know. Let's go."
They left the temple, but on the way to the VRcade, Oba saw a crazy dress with orange and purple fake fur stripes in the window of a shop. She got a sparkle in her eye and decided to try it on. Inside, J-pop music blared and vid strips covered the walls. The store, New Edo, was for teenagers, but Oba was determined.
Oba looked around. "Where are the dressing rooms?"
You don't try things on like that anymore." Kimiko guided her over to a mirror and pushed the button. The mirror's camera scanned Oba and displayed her image. Kimiko ran the tag in front of the sensor and the furry dress appeared on her instantly.
"Oh, right. I tried a prototype of this tech a long time ago. It was rather glitchy then." Oba spun and the skirt flared with her. "I see they've fixed that. Nice tracking."
Oba turned, and flipped, and mugged for the camera until Kimiko was laughing so hard they attracted a crowd of teens. Then she grabbed a spiky green vest from the rack and dragged Kimiko in on the show. She copied Oba's moves and added a few spins of her own. The hoard of trendy teenagers were all recording on their wrist holos. They were going to go viral.
Oba struck a pose with her hand high in the air. "So, what do you all think?"
The crowd clapped and cheered. Oba's 'like' rating on the side of the mirror soared. The store's interface immediately offered one hour drone delivery, free, because of her great rating. Oba put in her parent's address.
"It's a shame I can't wear it right now," Oba said. "But it's going to be spectacular when my friends and I go dancing next weekend. I'll have to shop here more often."
"I don't know if a furry dress is good for playing VR games," Kimiko nudged.
Oba laughed. "Maybe not."
They left the shop and started walking. Kimiko jumped with excitement when the Little Tokyo Experience Center came into view. There was no mistaking the giant animated display with VR experiences scrolling across the building. But Oba's attention wasn't so high up; she was looking at a menu in a restaurant window.
"Are you hungry?" Oba asked. "I think we should eat before we go running off into VR land."
Kimiko sighed and rolled her eyes. They were never going to get to the dragon game. She looked in Oba's eyes and saw more mischief there; and she remembered her manners.
"Sure, Oba. We can stop for lunch."
Evidently Oba had been listening, because this was a hover sushi bar like Kimiko had talked about. This one was called the Flying Fish and claimed to be the best in Little Tokyo.
Little plates of rolls and raw fish glided by them on a mag-lev field at the bar. Oba's hands were fast. Kimiko squealed when Oba put still squirming tentacles in front of her. When she hesitated, Oba snapped one up in her chopsticks and gobbled it down. Challenge made.
Now Kimiko had to keep up. She ate a tentacle and squirmed in her seat as it wriggled in her mouth. They traded off until the plate was empty. Every plate after that, they shared. Nothing was off-limits. When they were satisfied, they leaned back and turned off the beacon that directed plates near them.
"I never knew lunch could be so much fun," Kimiko said.
"It's all in what you make it. Fun doesn’t require a power source, it just requires you."
Kimiko understood immediately. That was why Oba kept delaying getting to the VRcade. She wanted to show Kimiko other ways to have fun. Kimiko laughed. Even though she was becoming a big kid, she still had a lot to learn. Her nine years were no match for Oba's sixty-three.
"Now, let's get to that arcade," Oba said.
The inside of the Little Tokyo Experience Center was an explosion of light and motion and Kimiko loved it. On the first floor, travel agencies, spas, and meditation clinics fought to be the most boring suppliers of virtual reality, all promising peace and tranquility.
The real action was on the second floor. Kimiko had tried all of the games and most of the extreme sports, when she'd saved enough of her allowance, but she'd only tried a free demo of one of the concerts. Next time maybe, when she and Oba didn't have dragons to race.
Oba looked up and all around. Kimiko was glad when she wasn't drawn to any of the stuff on the first floor. That was where older people usually went.
"Oh, this is the old mall." Oba said. "I used to buy cute little cat figures at a store right over there." She pointed to one of the VR spas.
Kimiko tugged Oba's hand. "Are you ready to be a dragon?"
"I already am one! But let's fly."
They went up to the VRcade. Kimiko swiped her temporary bio tattoo and saw the extra credits her parents had added for her birthday; there were plenty for both of them. She headed straight for Dragon Chase. The attendant set up their headsets and helped them into the simulator. They laid on their stomachs in a sturdy hammock, and put their arms and legs into the flexible armatures. Four other racers were linked from other arcades.
"You have to flap to fly, Oba."
"This is more complicated than anything they had when I was a kid."
"Mom said you only had an old Atari."
Oba laughed. "Kimiko, my generation ruled the original video arcades. I'm glad to see them back."
The game started and Kimiko was disappointed to see her high score was now at number three. She showed Oba anyway.
"Well, maybe we can get you back on top."
Kimiko chose her favorite orange dragon, Oba took the green one.
They flew the first race. Kimiko flapped hard, using her whole body to maneuver. Oba started out rough, like everyone did, but started to get it by the end.
"Let's do that again," Oba said.
They raced again, diving through the rings and grabbing orbs of fire. This time Oba came in right behind her. They still weren't on top, but not every run could be championship quality.
"Do you want to take a break, Oba? Mom said not to run you ragged."
"Bah. Your mom is working under the mistaken belief that I'm old. Let's go again. Fly for all you're worth, Kimiko."
Before the next race started, Kimiko took a deep breath. She wanted to show Oba she could do this.
As soon as the flag dropped, Kimiko flapped as fast as she could. She knew where to glide through banks, when to pick up speed and where to cut a corner tight. At the halfway mark she noticed there were no other dragons near her. A quick glance back showed the green dragon behind her by some distance, but in front of the rest. Oba was swerving and diving, holding off the rest of the pack. Kimiko had first place all to herself.
She focused forward just in time to duck under the rock bridge while avoiding the lava below. Her arms were getting tired, but she wouldn't let up. Last lap. On the first turn she caught a glimpse of Oba. The other dragons were working together. It wouldn't be long before one broke through. Kimiko flapped and dove and flapped some more– and crossed the finish line in first place. Not only that, but she'd grabbed enough bonuses along the way to get the high score back.
Kimiko let out a victory whoop, and Oba joined her before they were out of the harnesses. Even the attendant was happy for them as he relieved them of the equipment.
"Thanks for the help, Oba."
"That's what a wing-woman is for."
They were both panting heavily. "Okay, maybe now's a good time for a break," Oba admitted.
After stopping for a drink and a rest, Oba was ready to dive back in, wanting to try all the games. By the time the sun was down, they'd tried every game in the VRcade at least once, and done more shopping. Oba found a cute rubber cat for her collection and they went back for that green spiky vest for Kimiko. It was the perfect thing to remember the day by.
Their last stop was the Ice Cream Lab for classic blue velvet cones. Kimiko was exhausted, but happy. Oba didn't seem fazed at all. Contrary to her Mom's warnings, Oba had run her ragged.
As they sat across from each other, Kimiko noticed that Oba was eating her ice cream as enthusiastically as she was. All that talk about her being old had been foolish.
"I figured something out today, Oba."
"And what's that?"
”When I grow up, I want to be just like you."
Oba laughed. "I'm flattered. But remember to be yourself more than anyone."
"I will." Kimiko nodded.
"Today was fun," Oba said. "We should come here more often."
This made Kimiko smile. "Yes, we should." She'd be ready for all the different kinds of fun they could come up with next time. Little Tokyo had no idea what it was in for.
*This story was a Finalist in the Little Tokyo Historical Society Short Story Contest, 2016.