Last month, as I dwelt upon my tale of a family reconnection from 15 years ago, I looked out the window, hoping to glance upon some previously unknown source of inspiration.
The endless ocean waved at me in return. Strings of Okinawan folk music drifted lazily through the open sliding glass door.
I sighed, contented.
I’d made it. I’d finally achieved a lifelong goal: Make it to Japan.
And make it I had! But only for two weeks. See, I was there with my husband who’d taken on a whirlwind tour of Japan for work. Sixteen days, no more than three consecutive nights in any location. I was delirious with joy and exhausted with the constant travel.
But I was there. That was all that mattered.
The constant callbacks to home helped keep any homesickness at bay, like work email, Twitter feeds and Macklemore songs in every city we visited. We heard “Thrift Shop” in Harajuku of all places. I heard “Can’t Hold Us”, as well as some Ace of Base and Rick Astley, on a lunch break in the American Village in Okinawa.
Yes, I was Rick-Rolled in Japan.
But it was more than these which reminded me of all the neat things about calling a place home.
It was the crane flying lazily over tall buildings in Misawa in the northern state of Aomori, like the heron that skims gently over the Columbia River just outside my office window.
It was the restaurant and service industry workers trying to work with me and my “Survival Japanese”, like the Spanish-speaking workers in some of my favorite establishments in the community. The encouragement, help and, frankly, happy shock from some vendors over this tall white girl speaking fairly decent Japanese was worth every embarrassing speech error I made.
It was in the small-talk I made with clerks, servers and attendants, much like I would any other day back at home with familiar faces at my local coffee shop. The only difference was the language of the exchange.
It was the handfuls of people willing to help my husband and I find where we needed to go while looking at a map or a station directory. I was so grateful to the comic book shop attendant who pointed us to a nearby drugstore in Akihabara so I could finally purchase bug bite cream for my welt-covered legs that I could’ve hugged him had it not been so weird.
It was there in the bowls of cat food and dried fish placed out at night for neighborhood kitties in the street market near our Tokyo ryokan in the Yanaka district. The care displayed for animals not even their own but distinctly still a part of that unique, cat-friendly neighborhood touched my heart and made me long for my own animals at home. It reminded me of my own efforts in caring for our neighborhood strays.
It was in the old gentleman who welcomed us personally to Kyoto (even though we’d already been there a day), who told us his quick life story of having lived stateside for 13 years, and gave us directions to Kinkakuji – the Golden Pavilion – in exchange for reading a letter he had out loud in English. Even as I write this, I’m smiling recalling him and his vigor.
I felt it when we had potato korokke with our guide long after our daylong tour of Tokyo had concluded, bonding with her over a mutual love of all things potatoes.
It was in reconnecting with a friend from middle and high school who now teaches English in a middle school outside of Tokyo, and catching up like 10 years hadn’t just gone by in a blur.
In the young children calling for their friends racing away on bikes; the teenage girls in matching school uniforms in the train station saying “see you later!” as they parted ways; the kindness afforded by everyone, always an “excuse me” here or a “sorry” there as we bumped and jostled into one another on a full train, it hummed in the air. Even in the pity directed at me and my bug bite-covered legs after a day among the torii at Fushimi Inari, it was there.
The gratitude in the elderly couple’s eyes as we hopped up with a heartfelt “Douzo!” – “Please!” – and a gesture toward our now-open seats on a hot and crowded bus. The wife’s direct and thoughtful “Thank you” in English as they reached their stop.
I swear I even saw it in the jubilation of family and friends of a young bride and groom holding their ceremony at our final hotel, arriving as we were waiting to leave for Narita Airport.
In all of this and so much more, I saw home. I felt a sense of community. I felt welcome in a foreign land halfway around the world. Even when asked “Dochira kara kimasuka?” – “Where are you from?” – we received smiles and knowing nods each time we answered, as though it didn’t really matter too much, because at least for now, we were there.
It’s that sense of home and community that helped ease the homesickness. Certainly, being able to communicate and work with people back home helped too, but that unexpected sense of acceptance made it easy to feel comfortable, difficult to leave, harder still not to feel heartache and shed some tears for the loss – or perhaps, temporary displacement – of something more awesome than I could have ever hoped to dream.
If I can even once make a new person to the Tri-Cities feel as welcome here as I felt in Japan, help them to find small reminders of where they came from, then maybe everyone around us will finally begin to understand just what it is about this place we already see that makes it worth calling home.
I saw it and felt it a world away in a land I’d never been before. Who’s to say I can’t offer the same to someone else here?
Liked this post? Follow this blog to get more.