I wanna live in Japan forever. I don’t dislike my home country. In fact, I look forward to going back every chance I get. But to tell you the truth, it is much easier to live in Japan, especially regarding health care and cost of living. Besides, there is no way I could live without tamagokakegohan (eggs and rice) and Japanese nimono boiled veggies. I would shrivel up and die without them. Recently, Riz and I purchased our first home, and we will be paying it off until I am 73. Hmm. I wonder if I will live that long. It doesn’t really matter since another of the perks of living in Japan is buying death insurance. If I die at anytime in the repayment process, Riz and the kids get to keep the house and the loan is cancelled. Sweet. Not that I want to die, of course. Anyway, I love Munakata, and I want to live here until I die–hopefully after paying off my 250,000 dollar loan.
I am in love with Japan and in love with Munakata. But, hear me out. That doesn’t mean that it is always easy for me to live as a foreigner here. There are, and always will be some hard times. I was brought up in a rural town in Virginia, and I am super tight with my parents and two brothers. If money and time are on my side, I make it home twice a year to see them. My mom, like all moms, can be a bit naggy and opinionated at times (I am sure my kids think the same of me), but I love and respect her deeply. I am the person I am today because of her.
My two youngest daughters haven’t seen their grandparents or ten cousins in almost two years. While I am incredibly thankful for Skype, which didn’t exist when I first came to Japan, it just isn’t the same. We can’t hug on Skype, nor can we play catch. More than anything, I love playing baseball with my Dad. Well, I also love tacos. But, yeah, I love playing catch with Dad more.
My husband, Riz, is a pro photographer and man, he is awesome. No reason I can’t get in a shameless plug for my honey while writing this blog. Yesterday, my friend asked me if he could do a photoshoot of her family. But the thing is, they run their own business, and since someone always has to be at the store, the only time they could gather the whole brood together was at 10 pm on a Saturday night. May sound a bit crazy, but Riz and I will do anything for our friends. So we arrived at 10, and all 16 members of the family were there, including a bunch of little kids who were amazingly still awake. I thought about blaming sugar, but they are not the kind of family to pump their kids full of sugar. Anyways, although we arrive right at 10, we had trouble getting to work because our friends’ family wanted us to eat and drink with them (it didn’t matter that we were on our way home from a huge meal at a friend’s house). This family get together reminded me of my own family, how we used to gather on holidays and eat and drink and talk. We didn’t need to be doing anything special–just being together was enough. I always get sad seeing pictures of family get togethers on Facebook, especially at the holidays. It makes me miss my own family, who are so far away. I have spent maybe two Christmases with them in the past 15 years. Maybe.
But this get together didn’t make me sad. Do you know why? Because this wonderful family took us in and made us feel like family. They invited in these gaijin from far away America and accepted us as their own. We are 8000 miles away from our families who love us so much, but we have a Japanese family, a family that loves us and provides the emotional balm that we need when we are feeling sad. That made me think. What is family? Is it having the same blood? Is it an emotional connection? What does one have to do to earn the right to be called “family?” To me, family has always been a wonderful thing that can transcend language, religion, values and even borders. We have very little in common with this wonderful family other than a connection of the heart. And if you think about it, isn’t that more important than anything? It is really hard for something like that to be broken.
As we were taking pictures (we finally got around to taking pictures), I was moved. There is really not a good word in English for ‘moved,’ actually, so maybe it sounds kinda cheesy here. Touched? Hmm. Maybe that is better. They were all together, perhaps for the first time in years, and they were happy just being together. And of course, after we were done with the shoot, we ate and drank more. I ate so many nuts and rice crackers that I still feel gross.
Anyway, as a foreigner in Japan, I have come to realize that Japanese society is a closed entity which will never really accept me no matter how well I speak Japanese or try to fit into the culture. I will always be on the outside looking in. But you know what? That is just fine with me. I am perfectly happy on the outside. Because while the society may never accept me as one of their own, my friends, whom I love like family, will and have. And in a culture that so values blood relations, that is really an amazing thing. I would much rather my small groups of friends accept me than the culture as whole, and I think that any foreigner in Japan who strives for this kind of acceptance will be able to find happiness here. So I am gonna keep talking to my Mom once a week on Skype while loving Japan with all my heart. And one day, I will die in Munakata–hopefully after I have paid back my loan.