Monday, October 14, 2013

Leaving Japan

Words cannot express how difficult it has been for me to say goodbye again to this country. This time around was much harder than when I left as a missionary all those years ago. I'm hoping that by putting my feelings down in writing will help ease the pain of leaving in some way. Of course, given the chance, I'll probably edit this some day to remove the raw emotion I'm sure will come through by writing it down now. Oh well. It's not an easy thing to do, no matter when it's done.

One year and nine months ago, we arrived in a ruffled heap in the land of the rising sun. The kids were exhausted, and Rachel and I were wondering what we had gotten ourselves into. After a whirlwind few days of trying to get at least the bare essentials ready for our apartment, we moved in. No couch, no chairs, nothing but the air mattress and sleeping bags we had brought with us. I remember feeling so completely lost in our new "home" away from home. And then I went on a business trip for a week. I'm so sorry, Rachel. I will be forever trying to make that up to you... Luckily, the Ikea furniture arrived and was put together by the wonderful members of the Tokyo Second Ward. Small miracles, right? But we weren't done with our trials, were we?

I can still see myself in my mind's eye struggling to make things comfortable enough for everyone to avoid a revolt. To them, the food was new, the language unfamiliar and strange, the hotel room cramped, the apartment woefully empty as we waited for our shipment from America. I see myself struggling at the Tokyu Store (grocer) to find something the family would likely eat. I see myself confused and frustrated at every turn in identifying necessary household goods and medicine and even where to buy them. I see myself struggling with the Kanji reading required to get the kids enrolled in Yochien and later Shogakkou. I see the family enduring the blistering heat of summer and the bone-chilling cold of winter on foot or train, without a car. I see Rachel doing all of this while pregnant with Avri and after she was born.

Looking back, it seems impossible to believe that there were so many trials for such a short amount of time. I recall on one visit to America that Rachel and I were just overwhelmed with how easy it was just to "be". It seemed like every day in Japan presented some new set of obstacles that had to be overcome - perhaps not incredibly challenging ones, but certainly more than would have been required of us in our native land.

And overcome them we did. Together. As a family.

Now, before you think our time here was completely and insanely difficult, I want to tell you what else I see in looking back. I see a sparkle in my eye and a bounce in my step at every success. I see myself finding the joy in reliving old memories from my previous life in Japan and in having new, unforgettable ones. I see Avri learning to crawl and then walk as she emerged from her favorite spot in the Baby Ergo (we called her "Turtle" for a reason). I see Kelsie thriving as she first gains a simple understanding and then becomes almost fluent in Japanese. I see Logan becoming an instant sensation in the modelling industry in Tokyo. I see Rachel mastering the ins-and-outs of finding her way around a big city as he memorizes the train systems enough to impress any Japanese or foreigner.

At every turn, our trials and obstacles have made us stronger, healthier, wiser, and happier than we could have imagined. I will be forever grateful for the experiences I had as a businessman traveling to multiple locations between Osaka and Tokyo. I gained a deeper understanding of the culture and language than I could ever have hoped to gain in school or on my mission here. I know Rachel and the kids will forever cherish their time here in Japan. While Avri will likely not remember any of her time here, she will forever be tied to this country of her birth.

When the family left on the plane to move back to the U.S., I was alone in the apartment with all of the memories of our time here. I struggled with the knowledge that the memories I was recalling wouldn't happen again. We would not see Logan and Kelsie race down a wooded Japanese path again. We would not see Avri being adored by cute little Japanese grandmas on the train. I would not pile Logan and Avri on my bike while Kelsie and Rachel trail behind on their own bikes on our way to the Sushi restaurant down the street. It was an overwhelmingly depressing couple of days in the apartment while I packed up the last few things and put things in order to move.

After the movers cleared the house and everything was on its way to America, I took a few minutes to go from room to room just soaking in the emptiness and quiet. I felt like a ghost haunting a home I had once lived in that was no longer mine. I could almost hear the kids chasing each other down the halls as Avri tottered along giggling after them. The shades of memories past were thick and I was suddenly out of place and out of time in my own home. It was at that moment when I realized that my home isn't a single country or even a single living space. My home is where my family is. I suddenly was ready to leave my beloved Japan. I was ready to feel at home again and the only way that was going to happen was by leaving the only home I've known for the entire time we've been in Japan. It was time to go to back to America and I was now ready.

Now, as I sit in a hotel room in Shinagawa on my last night of this adventure in Japan, I am sad, but also grateful for all that we have been blessed to have experienced. It has been one of the best experiences of my life to-date. I hope it has been so for my family as well. I know I will miss living in this place more than I can possibly imagine, but I also know it is time to move forward to new experiences; I look forward to that.

While I have immensely enjoyed living here, there are a couple of things I would remind myself before considering moving back:
  1. Summer is REALLY hot and humid here. Don't underestimate that.
  2. Winter is miserably cold as well, though not as long as some places.
  3. I have allergies. More here than most places I've lived. Feb-March, June-Sept ALL bad. Very, very bad. I have had to be on allergy medicine and nasal decongestants from the US non-stop during those months and even that wasn't always enough. Keep that in mind.
  4. Due to the above, a car would have been a really nice addition to the mix.
  5. Also, never underestimate the importance of a new apartment with plenty of sun exposure. One word: Mold.
  6. Sunscreen is optional, mosquito spray is not.
Some things to keep in mind when visiting in the future:
  1. The most comfortable weather is in mid-May to early June.
  2. Typhoon season is Sept-Oct.
  3. Avoid in August at all cost. Even the Japanese don't stay in Japan in August (most companies and schools are closed during this period).

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