Thursday, September 19, 2013

How Dreams Materialize

(BGM: One Wish by Hiroshima)

Many people ask me what brought me to Japan.

That's always been a tough one for me to answer. I always fear that they might think I'm trying to be profound or self-important if I tell them the truth. So I usually just make a silent compromise and tell them that I find the culture interesting, or something simple like that.

But the truth is, Japan called me to it.

I don't think I was born in the wrong country. I'm thankful I had the chance to spend three decades in one of the Earth's most pristine and untouched places. I'm terribly glad I was lucky enough to enjoy America's educational system when I did, before huge budget cuts and standardization took its ugly toll on it. My childhood in latter oil-boom Alaska was magical to say the least.

But like the wind that catches the kite to lift it high into the air, when I heard my first notes of enka music drifting gracefully from the speakers of my father's short wave radio, I found myself being carried away, lulled by black-haired sprites into a dream of vivid green bamboo forests and crystal waterfalls. Little did I know how closely my imagination of the place would match reality. (It's kinda spooky when I think about it, actually).

McHugh Creek waterfall along Turnagain Arm in Alaska

Small Waterfall in Arashiyama, Kyoto
At eight years old, I had no means whatsoever of getting to Japan, so I journeyed there all the time in my mind. I collected every magazine and image I could find with Japanese-related anything in it. I checked out every book on all things Japanese from our local libraries. I bought every single item of Japanese origin that my ex-pat friend (and former babysitter) Patti sold at her garage sales whenever she was home visiting.  In my teens, when VHS finally became available, I hoarded Japanese TV programs and commercials, memorizing them by sound as much as possible. Our school didn't have a Japanese language class, so I teamed up with another student and we created our own, which eventually grew into a class of 35 with its own club (of which I became president). I covered my bedroom windows in thin yellowish paper with strips of masking tape to make it look like shoji screens when the sun shone through it (it was quite effective!). At night I would put Kodo or Hiroshima on my Walkman and pedal away on my stationary bicycle, imagining myself cruising down one of Japan's many cycling roads. (Again, I had NO idea at the time how this would become a reality).

But my favorite thing in the world to do, would be to savor the magical view from my mother's screaming green Cadillac as we wove around the Chugach Mountains down the Old Seward Highway on our way to Anchorage, back when it was full of lethal hairpin turns. Cow parsnip and devil's club bushes grew untamed right against the road, emerald lushness broken by the occasional whoosh of a rushing waterfall. Japan to me would look exactly like this. It almost got to the point where my fantasies about Japan were enough. I didn't need to go to there to feel as if I'd traveled there. (Little did I know that decades later, I would come across the exact same type of landscape in Shiga, Kyoto and Hiroshima prefectures).

Unnamed Waterfall in Higashi Hiroshima
In college, I made my first Japanese friends, who confirmed all my hopes about their amazing country. It was then I learned that the key to getting what I want would be to do the work, study hard, land some scholarships and get over there on foreign exchange when the opportunities eventually presented themselves, which is exactly what I did. The point is, I kept an eye open for those opportunities and seized them with all my might.

I do believe I was called to Japan. And I'm glad of it. You don't have to be 'native' or even a patriot to love where you are. You don't even have to know a place well to belong there. If a place resonates with you, then you should be there, by all means! It is my firm belief that people should be free to live wherever they are most comfortable. If only our respective governments and societies held this same belief!

Yet this remains another dream. I wonder what kind of work needs to be done to make that happen.

Good night from Japan.

-Robynn :-)

Copyright 2013 Genkilee, Gen. All rights reserved. No part of this blog (written or photo content) may be reproduced or reprinted without the expressed permission of the author.

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