In a few days, we are leaving Japan. Forever. Again.
I have moved to Japan from the U.S. three times — in 1999, then in 2002, then again in 2010. Rounding up, I will have made my home here for nearly a decade. This surprises me every time I do the math.
It is certainly inconvenient to move back and forth from one’s home country to a foreign land. But I am grateful for the discoveries made in the juxtaposition of two vastly different cultures, discoveries that were afforded me by this pattern of working, living, and being deeply in two places: one culturally comfortable and one not in the least.
Each tour came with its own theme, and each theme has colored my life, and my perceptions, to the core: The first was all about (painfully, joyfully) discovering who I am — and finding that many of my beliefs, behaviors, and desires are a direct result of my own cultural conditioning. The second was dedicated to practice, as well as to cultivating an appreciation for a uniquely Japanese aesthetic, specifically in terms of Koun’s monastic life and my delving into an apprenticeship in pottery.
I have a lot to say about those first two evolutionary experiences (in fact, I wrote a book about the second). But it is the third multilayered theme that has been the most profound: my children, parenting, and what this all means in terms of place.
For me, a sense of belonging completely, of being rooted, to a place has always been somewhat tenuous. I was born in Texas, where most of my family continues to reside, but moved to Alaska when I was nearly 5 years old. Later, I attended universities in Oregon and Washington. When I met Koun, Montana was added to the repertoire of places I knew well and liked. And then came Japan.
Now, when I try to locate “home” in my mind, I can’t quite name it, but I do have a strong visceral pull to towering mountains, to cold, to vast expanses of icy water, to wildness. Perhaps, in my bones, I know that I am of Alaska.
Thus, when it comes to my bilingual/bicultural children, these are my burning questions: What place will they have a longing for? What place will they call home?
Boy is 4-going-on-5 — the same age at which I left Texas, a place I feel almost no real connection to now. I wonder if my son’s experience will mirror mine, if he will let go of Japan entirely and embrace the new as his own. And Girl, now 2, was born here. Will she remember her birthplace at all? Will my children forget entirely a language and a culture that is so much an integral part of who they are now?
Add to the mix that we are moving to the east coast of Canada. For all of us, it is a new country and a new ocean. I know that it is not Japan, but it is also not the U.S. I cannot presume that it is exactly like any place that I know well. (I will say, though, that Nova Scotia, a province I have only visited through photographs, looks an awful lot like home to me. There’s a rightness in how sea meets rock, in the snowscapes of winter, in that verdant summer terrain.)
I can’t know what will happen, but here’s what I do know: At present, my children are Japanese. And they are American. It is — and will continue to be — hard for others to comprehend this. (Sometimes, it is hard for me to comprehend it, as is the fact that Koun and I are no longer “simply American,” either.) All of us will be shaped by where we move next. Some things will fall away, and some things will remain. We’ll make a home out of what remains.