Renewal was in the cards for interrupted friendship

November 23, 1994|By Howard Libit | Howard Libit,Sun Staff Writer

More than three decades after they first lost touch with each other, Kitty Boyan and her Japanese pen pal resumed their friendship early yesterday morning.

The 50-year-old Marriottsville woman and Hiroshi Isaji, a 51-year-old Mitsubishi Electric Corp. executive from Fukuoka, in southern Japan, greeted each other with a somewhat timid handshake inside the lobby of a hotel near Baltimore-Washington International Airport.

They quickly overcame their initial shyness and began swapping stories about the early days of their long-distance relationship. But finding each other again was not so easy -- Mrs. Boyan had lost contact with her Japanese pen pal not once, but twice.

The two, who began writing in 1958 when they were paired by a New York agency, stopped corresponding four years later. And Mrs. Boyan was certain she would never hear from Mr. Isaji again.

Then, out of the blue, the Clarksville Elementary School teacher received a postcard from him in 1992 at her mother's home in Mount Washington, a postcard that he sent out of a lingering curiosity about what had become of her.

But not more than a week later, her purse was stolen -- with the precious postcard in it.

"I was devastated by the loss of that postcard," Mrs. Boyan said. "After 30 years of not writing to each other, he sends a postcard to me at my mother's house and then it gets stolen. I was upset about it for more than a year."

When Mrs. Boyan didn't respond immediately, Mr. Isaji figured that he would never hear from her again.

A second chance

A year later, however, Mrs. Boyan decided she could try contacting Mr. Isaji the same way he had found her, so she sent a postcard to him at his family's old home.

Her postcard made it into the hands of Mr. Isaji's sister, who passed it along to him at his new home in Fukuoka. And the former pen pals became pen pals again.

"It's incredible that it all worked out so well," Mrs. Boyan said. "I was so excited [Monday] night that I could not sleep."

When they got together yesterday, the pen pals looked far different from the black-and-white snapshots they had exchanged in their initial letters.

"In those first few letters, I was pretty naive, and I assumed he was a girl," Mrs. Boyan recalled. "I kept wondering why she was sending me pictures of her brother or her boyfriend."

"I kept getting these letters addressed, 'Dear Miss Hiroshi,' and I didn't understand it," Mr. Isaji said with a laugh. "I was so embarrassed."

Once they straightened out the gender confusion, Mr. Isaji and Mrs. Boyan exchanged letters about once a month until 1962 -- although she is quick to say that "he was a better writer than I was."

"I would get a letter from Hiroshi, and then I wouldn't write back as soon as I should have," Mrs. Boyan said.

Saved mementos

Pulling out a manila envelope filled with several dozen letters from overseas, Mrs. Boyan showed how she had saved every item she had received during their four years of correspondence, including a tiny map of Japan and a delicate Japanese Christmas card.

"Here's where you taught me how to count from one to 10 in Japanese," Mrs. Boyan said.

"I don't even remember sending that," Mr. Isaji replied with a sheepish laugh.

Exploring Baltimore

After their meeting early yesterday morning, Mrs. Boyan hustled Mr. Isaji off to begin a three-day whirlwind tour of the Baltimore region.

In addition to showing him the sights of Baltimore yesterday, Mrs. Boyan took Mr. Isaji for a brief tour of Linwood Children's Center in Ellicott City, a school for autistic children. One of Mr. Isaji's four children is autistic.

Taking part in a tradition

The main event of today's schedule will be a day in the classroom with Mrs. Boyan's fifth-graders. Mr. Isaji will watch the children race in the school's one-mile Turkey Run, and he might even teach them a little Japanese.

"The kids are really looking forward to meeting him," Mrs. Boyan said.

The final day of Mr. Isaji's visit will be a traditional Thanksgiving dinner at the home of Mrs. Boyan's mother.

Noting that he has never even eaten turkey, let alone celebrated Thanksgiving, Mr. Isaji said, "It's also the first time for me to stay with a foreign family."

Mr. Isaji and Mrs. Boyan pledged that they would not permit their friendship to take another 30-year hiatus after he returns home to Japan Friday.

"Of course we'll keep in touch," Mrs. Boyan said. "And I can't wait until I go and visit him. It's just a question of me saving my pennies for a visit."

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