With great trepidation, I’m leaving for Japan this morning.
Some folks are shocked that I’ve never been to Japan, despite being Japanese-American.
I admit that I’ve had a strange fascination with the place, but am also unnerved by the thought of visiting. And my delaying a visit for so long has unfortunately allowed me to really overthink what it means to visit a place my ancestors left.
I was born and raised in Hawaii, surrounded by Japanese-Americans, but what will it be like to be surrounded by the, errr, original, form of “my people” who are also, not really my people?
Do origins bind?
Will I feel surprisingly at home, or alarmingly alienated? We have common cultural roots, but what if there is no “Welcome back!”?
Is it faulty to expect that a bond will be made just because a little over 100 years ago, my ancestors left their village in central Japan, boarded a steamer ship in Yokohama, and sailed away looking for a better life?
Perhaps that initial sailing away, that bi-directional rejection, warrants no bond.
As a child, I remember hearing a story about some family members making a trip back to the ancestral village to reunite with family. The reception went something like this: “What do you want? We don’t have any money.”
I also remember hearing a story of family traveling from the ancestral village to Hawaii to reunite with family members who had left, and they were greeted with the same suspicion.
Perhaps Japan and I won’t even recognize each other after all these years. Perhaps we’ll see each other, but pretend that we didn’t and duck into alleyways to avoid contact.
Or maybe, it’ll be business as usual, as in my day-to-day life in San Francisco, where bonds are created through interests and values and shared experiences, not at all based on the arbitrary tie of race.
Now, if only overthinking were an Olympic event.