my Japanese roots

(I also posted this on our travel blog:

from left: Rumiko, Otoosan, Okaasan, Katsuhito. (Absent: Kayoko & Sinji)

from left: Rumiko, Otoosan, Okaasan, Katsuhito. (Absent: Kayoko & Shinji)

It costs a few dollars to do an overseas holiday, but I would almost have paid the full amount just for yesterday. My life was shaped profoundly by the year I spent here in Japan as a 17 year old, and the biggest chunk of that year I lived with a wonderful family – the Kunitates. Not having had contact with them for most of the 30 years since I left, I was amazed to learn that the parents still live in the same house that held so many memories for me. The four teenage children are of course all in their 40s now with kids of their own.

Katsuhito (my host brother) and his wife collected us from our hotel and drove us to my old high school. We were greeted politely by a teacher in the foyer, and I produced a photo of myself with a number of my teachers from 32 years ago. To our bewilderment and surprise, we discovered that one was still there. 5 minutes later I stood opposite a clearly recognisable older version of a my engineering teacher. He was less convinced at first sighting I was the same boofy haired teenager he had known, but before long we were recalling shared memories from decades ago, wandering the corridors and him disappearing and returning with some art work I had done, and a framed piece of memorabilia that the school had made with some photos of yours truly. Weird, and surreal.

to my right is Nakumura-san, my engineering sensei from 32 years ago

to my right is Nakumura-san, my engineering sensei from 32 years ago

 And then onto the family home. So much happens in 30 years. We grow bigger, we loose hair, we have families and all that accompanies the journey of life, yet we are the same people. But I wasn’t sure what to expect on returning to such a familiar yet remote space, a space that only existed in memories and dreams. My host parents are nearing 80 now, and I was unsure of their health. Not having had contact with them for so long I didn’t know if their offer to have us for lunch was simply being polite. Rumiko, one of my host sisters was to be there too. Rumiko was always full of energy and the life of the party.

I’ve never had an experience like this. You see it in movies. People who have loved each other, separated for decades; reunited. The embraces at the front door had me struggling to hold back tears.

Photos of families, stories, laughter. Food (okonomiyaki). Phone calls from the siblings not present, both living in Tokyo. I try to balance engaging and simply taking it in. In the evening we sit in the balmy warmth on boats (eating and drinking again, something the Kunitates do very well!!) watching the cormorant fishing, for which Gifu is renowned. (Maria’s photoblog)


It is over all too quickly and the farewells late in the evening are another part of a curiously surreal yet intimate day. I will remember these beautiful people forever.

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