kudzu mountain sunset

On Loving Japan


kudzu mountain sunset
kudzu and Mt. Bandai at sunset from Aizu Nature Center

When I saw the Japanese nuclear power plant crumble in Godzilla (2014), I had a flashback to my sadness in the aftermath of the 2011 tsunami. I was not in Japan three years ago. I did not watch much televised news coverage. I read articles and went to a benefit concert and prayed. I grieved the wounding of a culture I loved.

Despite my sorrow, I did not comprehend what loving this culture meant until I visited Japan for three weeks this summer. I liked 95% of the food (exceptions were nato, a fermented soybean rice topping that some Japanese people don’t like, and a gray-brown type of sushi made from ground fish) and successfully learned how to open onigiri (filling rice ball snacks) from 7-Eleven. I heartily took long, hot baths after showering, removed my shoes to enter buildings, and exchanged bows with strangers in mutual acknowledgment of our humanity. I bought geta (Japanese wooden sandals) to wear inside and saw a dozen people walking around in them with traditional Japanese dress in Kyoto, a city that seemed spliced between ancient Japan and 5th Avenue in Manhattan.

Children in post-2011 Fukushima prefecture are still suffering from the nuclear plant’s leaked radiation. Many of their parents are afraid to let them play outside, and I am grateful to Lancaster Bible College’s Journey Teams for providing me the opportunity to turn my grief into action. Our team of faculty, staff, teenagers, and college students and graduates volunteered with Fukushima HOPE Project‘s summer camp at Aizu Nature Center. We spent four days alongside elementary school children kayaking, playing frisbee golf, hiking a hilly 2.5-mile scavenger hunt, and cooking curry over a fire made by a pump drill. Together, we laughed and sang instead of crying and held hands instead of refusing to try.

I returned to Lancaster with my own images and memories of Japan: the Port Tower and Pocky Port Tower of Kobe, the shadow and sediment of Mt. Fuji at Lake Yamanaka (where my team volunteered at an English camp), the street vendors of takoyaki (a savory octopus pastry) in Osaka (near where I visited a friend from Stony Brook University), the renovated 1964 Olympic Village in Tokyo (where my team stayed for a weekend), and the mountain range around Mt. Bandai at sunrise, at moonrise, and during a thunderstorm. Now, Japan is more than a culture I love through media from afar: it is foreign place where I have been merciful and felt at ease.

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