Tuesday, September 3, 2019

Home (to the Continuing Inferno Summer) from Home (Where Everybody Knows my Name)

Fresh back from the US! Well, some weeks back with the jet lag finally fading away. 

For some reason this trip home had me more reluctant to leave or at least more eager to return. I suppose my wife’s celebration of everything American (from waffle bars and Reddi-Whip at the hotel continental breakfast to the service workers with their frank distaste for their work: “Look there’s food on the floor and no one is rushing to clean it up. I love this country!”) had something to do with me feeling a bit nostalgic for my home country. That, and the easy familiarity of being home when I’ve lived so long so far away: chatting with cashiers and strangers and not feeling like one or both of us have some language or cultural learning motive behind it; not having language and culture be another layer of challenge to everything—whether asking for directions or phoning the bank with a question. I suppose such challenges are part of what I like about being here in Japan (and part of my wife’s excitement about being in the US) but it does wear at you with time. 

Another thing I’m realizing is that everyone is growing old. Well, everyone I know. That is, I’m old and getting older so everyone around me is doing the same, with some young people growing up on the periphery. It’s a mix bag, that. On one hand it’s obviously a little bit of a shock, but on the other it is true we do get better with age. The time and conversations I got to have with my friends and family seemed that much richer with our ever spreading gray hairs and chronic pains. And of course those young people who were little kids when we last met are suddenly young adults with opinions, ideas and goals blooming. Of course all of this just goes back to making me feel old. 

Nowhere did I feel the passage of time more than with my parents. I really had a lot of expectations on myself for this trip. Fatherhood has given me a new perspective and appreciation for what my parents have done for me and what I have—at times, many times—put them through. I wanted to be a good son, for at least a couple of weeks. Of course I fell short. I’m a frustrated son no matter what. But I think I came through at some important moments, even if I also failed at some. It would be good to go back and try again. Although, I guess there’s no reason I can’t try again from afar. But just being in the same country means a lot to them. Maybe I feel I can provide that. 

Finally, my wife and I want to be in the US again at some point for our son’s sake. On one hand we want him to know both cultures, but bigger than this we find many things we don’t like about secondary education here in Japan. There is no sense of cultivating the mind, only knowledge to be assimilated and tested to see your ranking in the next stage of education and then employment. Let me say, though, I have many friends and good parents who think the system here is better than what we have back in the US, largely in that the teachers are very active in helping students succeed at every step. And I think they make a strong point. But at the end of the day I’d rather be supplementing or encouraging self study to fill in for an inadequate education, than be trying to fight against the flood of facts and methods to be learned by rote here. 

 So, we’ve become more committed to the 10-year plan we dreamt up in recent months. That plan being to return to the US, likely Boston, and finally put my teaching certification to use in that great, little city. 

Still, things can change a lot in that time. For one, our son will be talking and forming his own opinions on this plan by then. And of course there is work; my wife and I have good jobs here, and moving in my late 40s/early 50s might not be the easiest of transitions. If things keep improving at work as they have been, it will be hard to pull away. And I won’t say more than to dip a toe in, but there is the politics to weigh in as well.

But, at the very least, thinking about it is exciting. And putting a bit extra into savings can’t hurt either. 

Anyway, here’s a picture of my folks’ backyard.