On leaving Japan- a bittersweet sayonara

This is by far going to be the most difficult post I have written yet. This space over the years has offered me a place to record my discoveries, to share something of what what I  have found beautiful, inspiring and unique in my encounters with Japanese culture. And there have been so many- in fact what has made it to this blog is surely only a small fraction of the of the experiences I have had over the many years since I moved to Japan.

And all that is about to change…

Going back to 1998, the year it all started, its hard to not feel nostalgic for the happily ignorant me, freshly landed with my suitcase and a head-full of dreams. Little did I know that Japan would claim so many of my adult years, that it would be the longest I had yet lived in any one place- 15 and a half years to be precise-and that I would trade in my one suitcase for a house with a family and three pets to boot. I knew not a word of the language, and very little of the culture. But I was curious, and willing to dive in without looking back.

Boats on Inokashira pond, 2001

Boats on Inokashira pond, 2001

Tea ceremony, 2002

Tea ceremony, 2002

Zenpukuji park, 2003

Zenpukuji park, 2003

Carp streamers at the preschool, 2003

Walking to preschool, 2003

At the Ghibli museum in 2004

At the Ghibli museum in 2005

Wearing kimono, 2004

Wearing kimono, 2005

From teaching English in the public schools in lovely Niigata, to being a new mom freshly landed in a big city for the first time, to putting down roots in our neighborhood of Kichijoji, dedicating over a decade to the study of traditional Japanese arts and conducting various activities through Nihonbi, these years in Japan have molded me in ways that I could never have imagined.

There is a phrase in Japanese ‘osewa ni narimashita’- which is an expression of gratitude and could be translated as ‘I am indebted to’. 日本16年間お世話になりましたーNippon, 16 nen kan osewa ni narimashita- Japan, I will always be indebted to you for the past 16years!

First dance performance, 2007

First dance performance, 2007

When my husband and I built our house a couple years back, and weathered the storm of 3/11 a month after moving in, we felt our roots in Japan ran deep. We had both worked very hard to built something, not just physically, but in our community, professional and personal lives. We were optimistic about our future Japan. Yet, the unsolved issues regarding our children’s education persisted. We have raised them to be fully bilingual, all having attended public Japanese schools since the beginning, but using English at home and supplementing with weekly reading/writing English classes. We loved the education they had received in elementary school- the emphasis on group dynamics and soft social skills. But our oldest, now an 8th grader, was working very hard to make the most out of a school curriculum that was really not a very good fit. The 4 hours a week of introductory English aside, so much of the Junior High experience here is geared towards taking the High School entrance exams, and as  we knew he would be taking a different route from the beginning, there was a lot that was just irrelevant.

My husband and I are very different in many respects but one thing we have in common is the formative experience of moving to a different country and learning a new language as children. We both credit this as one of the most important factors in making us the adults we are today- and we hope our own children will learn adaptability and flexibility in immersing themselves in a new culture. In many respects I feel we have all become too comfortable in Japan- life has become predictable and routine. And especially for my husband who has been working the long hours and enduring the long Tokyo commute for many years, it’s a routine that could stand to change.

And change it will. Next month we will be moving to the mountains of Utah, to Park City, a small but up and coming community, recently ranked as the best town to live in by Outside magazine. I think my husband summed it up best in saying that we will be ‘trading cultural landscape for physical landscape’.  I was once a country girl. I grew up in a small town in Iowa. Tokyo has been an amazing adventure, but I’m ready for the fresh mountain air and giant skies, I’m ready for the next adventure.

It’s hard for me to know at this point what form nihonbi will take in the future. I certainly hope that I will be able to continue to share my love for Japanese culture, but as life has a way of flowing around like a river around stones,  I won’t yet try to define the course of things. Thank you to all who have read and commented over the past few years. I’ll see you on the other side!


About nihonbi

Fortunate to have called Japan home from 1998-2014. Active in Sogetsu-ryu Ikebana, and with years of experience in tea ceremony, Japanese dance and ceramics, inspired by Japan's unique mix of heritage and innovation. I've created Nihonbi as a place to share my experiences in the Japanese art world and to network with others with a similar passion.
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