Visiting Japan is a big deal to me. A really big deal. It’s big because it’s expensive and far away, and until recently it felt completely cut off from me. It’s big because the Japanese part of my identity floats like an island desperately looking for home. It’s big because this year is the 70th anniversary of the Hiroshima bomb, the aftermath of which my grandmother witnessed, and which has undeniably shaped the course of her life.
Money has always flowed through my life like water. Mostly in trickles and occasionally streams, it’s been enough to keep me fed, safe and clothed. Comfy if you sat just right and didn’t question the lumpy blankets. Necessities had to be planned to run out at different rates, and emergency overdraft penalties stung me nearly every pay. Any extra lining at the end of the pay cycle would go to the next-most-necessary thing, and the list was endless.
Japan was too expensive to even cost up. It wouldn’t fit within a pay packet and saving would be overtaken by essentials well before I reached any realistic goal. It felt superfluous to want something so decadent. Dream smaller, just put it towards nice sheets.
Now I’m working in a stable space and am afforded an income that will nourish the Japanese part of me. I keep wondering whether it’ll be taken away, but I’m reminded I’ve earned this, and I’m working hard. It’s feels more like luck than anything. The work’s the same, it’s only the stream that’s different.
The stubborn iron in my blood has been dragging at me like a compass point tugging north. It tells me ‘Japan’ and I say ‘Yes, I know’, when I don’t know. There’s big holes in my knowledge, my manners, my understanding. And I want to say ‘watashi wa nihonjin’ but it comes out sounding like ‘gaijin’ as my accent trips over the unfamiliar vowel sounds. And my voice is right, I’m foreign.
I can’t point to Japanese on my skin or face, but I can sometimes point to where ‘white’ isn’t. It’s funny, because they’re usually the points I hate the most about myself, and yet I wish wish wish sometimes I’d just be properly Japanese. Proper, complete. Like I’m missing three quarters of myself as I float away like an island, cutting what I am into slices that fit more completely with the story. Editing my heritage to suit my intended narrative.
But we all edit ourselves, right? Maybe it’s okay. History belongs to those who tell it.
I can really only describe it as an absence. It’s a big silence and pieces forever missing from my family. I’m on the periphery, where things are growing almost normal again, but this thing happened and it hollowed out so many many lives. I don’t understand and I don’t think I ever will. But I will go and I will stand with the people who still mourn, 70 years later, the worst thing their families ever saw.
I haven’t been before.
I don’t know what I am expecting.
I don’t know how I will feel.
This trip is getting rounded out with the fun frills of a holiday. I feel guilty as my original solemn purpose becomes couched in the cushiony joy of cute quirky must-sees, as my list fills with tourism. But no one can tell me this isn’t a pilgrimage. I might visit famous cats and sightsee and put on my best excited face for it all, but through all that a part of me still feels like it’s finally going home and I’m so grateful.
I know I will come back with different things than I intended to find, but I am lucky that this is unlikely to be the last time for a decade, like I thought not so long ago. I will be back to do more things, both the fun and the solemn. I will begin to know Japan in person, not just as imagined from a distance.