Sunday, May 11

Homesickness Defined

Since I have become an official adult, I have moved house eleven times. And that is not counting the little transitional moves when I was just waiting for a lease agreement or a roommate or money. Eleven major moves in sixteen years. Moving with children is no easy feat and we seemed to add on an extra one in-between each move in the past few years.

Being such a pro, I know now that there is a natural process your mind needs to embark on. Feeling nostalgic for what you left behind is part of it, despite being annoying to everyone around you in the new place. When we moved to Gotou, we missed Nara. When we moved to Nagoya, we missed Gotou. When we moved here, we missed Nagoya. It is natural to long for the place you so recently called home, for your old neighbors and students. We know that no place is a utopia. It is all about what you do while you are there.

Here in Florida we are trying our best. We are job-hunting (still) and homeschooling and gardening and raising chickens and canoeing and swimming and drawing and having an all-around good experience.

The thing is, in the past decade, seven of those years were spent in Japan. We began to be shaped by Japan, in our tastes, in our outlook. Our language learning was halting but solid and ever-evolving and this too affected our minds and hearts.

I was a professional language teacher in Japan. I was qualified and connected. I knew about my students' strengths and weaknesses and talked for hours with other teachers about these things, things that would bore anyone who is not a teacher, things that bored Jason before he became a teacher. Here I teach part time at best. This last semester I felt grateful just to have a classroom, even if the registered students exceeded the capacity of the room by fifteen. I am on sabbatical from that position now, home with my kids like any working mother ever dreams about, though being fantastically broke as a trade-off.

To be broke with four kids at the age of 34 really makes you think about things. Like how up until recently we all had good health insurance. Health insurance that allowed us to walk into any doctor's office and receive treatment. Health insurance that didn't make me worried or frustrated, just grateful because I rarely ever thought about health insurance except for making sure my card was in my wallet when I went to the doctors'.

I think about how up until recently the kids went to neighborhood schools where I did not have to worry about them being bullied or eating junk food in the cafeteria. Or shot, or stabbed, or kidnapped. Where they were supported not just academically but mentally and physically as well through plenty of recess, PE, art, and music classes. Not to mention the healthy school lunches and sense of cooperation they gained by cleaning the school and serving those healthy lunches to each other.

Up until recently we had bicycles and trains and buses. We had large parks and playgrounds within minutes of our house. We had a castle with golden orcas on the roof. We had a Pokemon center and an organic farmers' market where Jason's student's grandfather sold us rice he had grown and harvested. We had a tiny bright apartment teeming with children, our children, our neighbors' children, random school mates and their siblings. We had fireworks and barbecues in the summer on the street below, we had dance festivals in the school yard behind our house with red lanterns that swayed in the evening breeze. We had our life.

We still do, of course. I am very grateful to be where we are now. To be working on our own projects instead of having to put them off until the weekend or holidays that would go by too quickly. I am able to spend my days with my kids while they are young, while they want to hang out with us still. While they believe in kobito (little people) and explain to us how to trap them (meat and whiskey works well, according to Sebastian). We get to grow an entire vegetable garden that we have to fence in, instead of a little balcony container garden tucked away from the clothes line. We get to watch our chickens devour watermelon then take the remaining rinds to the compost pile. The beach is ten minutes away and the sand is just like white sugar. We are grateful that when the grandparents were in the hospital, we were about to worry about them from the waiting room instead of the other side of the world. When we want to teach the kids about astronomy, we simply walk outside after sunset and the stars are all there.
The thing is, this life we have right now, it is meant to be just a temporary reprieve while we get back on our feet. Yet doing the latter is proving to be harder than anyone ever thought. I have a degree in a field that is very specific and considered to be basically volunteer work in the States. My resume is full of experience that makes me overqualified and under-qualified for even the most menial positions.
I try not to be disheartened by this employment drought. Instead we head out to the garden or take the dog for a walk and hunt for blackberries and fireflies.

Ten years ago we were preparing to move to Japan for the first time. We had no idea what was waiting for us there. Last year we were selling off our worldly possessions. We had no idea what was waiting for us here.

We've been told by well-meaning souls that we need to get over Japan. That that chapter in our lives in over. That our life is here now. That is easily said (and kindly meant) but there is another possibility. There is the possibility that it is not that we are not meant to get over Japan. That it wasn't just about living abroad but about living. About finding a place where two dreamers were able to take care of their kids without being completely broke. And without having to stop dreaming. Where those kids could thrive because even though their biological family was a day away by airplane, they had family in the neighbors and teachers and friends that surrounded them. Where we adults could thrive because we had resources and constant inspiration. Some people are lucky to find that in their hometowns or in a city a few states away. We just happened to find it on the other side of the planet.

So when I say I am homesick, it is not said lightly or with any disrespect for the place where we are or the people who helped get us here. We are not giving up in anyway on our life here in America but all the same, we cannot just get over Japan. It does not work like that.


Anonymous said...

I feel your homesickness, you put it so well. Ganbatte. Ganbatte kudasai!

George F.

Azimski said...

I really feel for you all. We too experienced what you are going through, and continue to do so on some level five years down the track. We have to keep reminding ourselves of the reasons we made the decision to leave, reaffirming that the decision was a wise one, the right one, for reasons that we were not fully aware of at the time but which have become apparent much later. We are fortunate that we are now in a place where we have been able to grow relationships with the overseas Japanese community, which helps us to move forward while keeping us firmly connected to those precious experiences. As you say, you cannot simply "get over it". Nor should you try.
I so enjoyed reading your descriptions of your life in Japan and look forward to hearing more of your journey.

Lesley Ito said...

I enjoyed reading this so much and I thank you. Recently I have been dreaming about Florida all the time. I don't know why. I could never adapt after living in Nagoya so long and don't want to leave. If I am in Florida, I want good sushi and akadashi, people who cheerfully greet me with a perfect bow when I enter a shop, and nama beer with my fellow foreigners. When I'm in Nagoya, I dream of my toes in the sand and Cuban sandwiches.

Becca said...

I too enjoyed reading this. We've been out of Japan for 5 years now-although for the past couple of years I have taken the children back for 3 month stays, which has been wonderful-the best of both worlds. There are so many things I miss about Japan but we're lucky to have found a wonderful home ed community, organic food community and a welcoming overseas Japanese community to fit into-so I feel on the whole that life is richer over here (plus my Japanese husband much prefers life in the UK! (I would happily return to Japan anyday!)) I hope you carry on enjoying working through it all-you write about it very eloquently! -it does get easier!
Ganbatte ne!