It was 28 years in between my last visit as a child to Japan and my first as an adult. For some reason, I always imagined that I would be stepping onto the airport tarmac for my long-awaited return. With the standardization of passenger bridges for boarding and deboarding, I often wondered why I held on to this image of an old-fashioned deplaning on the tarmac.
When I arrived in Japan, the gate was already occupied due to a late flight. With no other gates available, I deplaned with the other passengers on the tarmac where we were whisked by bus to the other side of Narita International Airport (NRT) very close to our gate. I had traveled alone. Throughout this process only Japanese was spoken. I didn’t know what to say or do. I didn’t know what was happening. I just followed everyone else.
For many years, I had not visited Japan partly out of fear. I was afraid that I was always going to be out of the loop. I didn’t speak much Japanese. I thought that my family wouldn’t be able to speak much English. I didn’t want to just sit there and be an awkward object.
After so many years, I traveled to Japan to pay my respects for my Obachan (grandmother), who had just passed away. When I arrived at her home, the place I remembered so well that I last visited when I was three years old, it felt like I was coming home. When I looked around, I saw so much of Obachan through her belongings, so many of them last touched by her. It felt as though she had just stepped out and would be returning, unfortunately for me, after I would be leaving.
Obachan’s presence was very strong. Everyone was sad, but also happy. She was gone, but she was not suffering any more. The saddest part was that it took her passing away to get me back to Japan.
I arrived in Japan broken. My personal and professional lives were a wreck. The cracks were beginning to show, and I was starting to come apart.
My family was aware of my situation. They welcomed me with open arms and warm support. Everyone spoke English—and well—and they encouraged me to speak English as much as possible to help them refine their own English. I was surrounded by support and love. My fragility never felt so strengthened.
There is a saying about the Japanese: “When the Japanese mend broken objects, they aggrandize the damage by filling the cracks with gold. They believe that when something’s suffered damage and has a history it becomes more beautiful.”
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I remember my favorite moment in Japan. It was during my first visit as an adult, and I was sitting in rotenburo (outside private bath) during the early evening at a hotel on the shoreline of Lake Kawaguchiko. I was told by my uncle that we were very close to Mount Fuji, or Fujisan, as it is affectionately known, like a beloved living entity. It was August with intensely thick humidity casting a white haze over everything. During my bath in rotenburo, I felt all my troubles fade from my consciousness. I was so far away that I couldn’t see the chaos or hear the noise anymore. And then I turned to look at the view over Kawaguchiko, where I could begin to see the faint but unmistakeable, smooth outline of Fujisan making an appearance for the first time, I later learned, in nearly a month. This was a fortunate, magical moment shrouded in mystery and beauty.
The sky glowed a mellow dusky hue. Fujisan loomed over the horizon, a giant so close that I could feel it almost touch me. I was somewhere, with my family, and I felt strengthened. Mount Fuji became Fujisan for me. I was Japanese, and I was aggrandized by the dusky evening and its magic. I always remember that moment with such fresh feelings. Remember your favorite moment that gives you strength and fills you with love.
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