It’s a strange feeling going back to one’s culture and entering the realms of the past. An unfamiliar setting, where everything you see, smell, and touch, is a new and bewildering world. For me, my trip to Japan was so much more than just a “good time.” It was a way to get back in touch with my heritage, to live and inhale the Japanese culture, to give me a deeper understanding of not only who I am, but most importantly, where I came from.
Heading towards the exit of the airport, I was filled with so many doubts. I barely knew my relatives in Japan. Besides a few general terms a five year old would know, I was lost for words, literally. Signs carrying the most random letters surrounded me, the letters forming elegant shapes but bearing no significance to me for I could not read it.
“Andre!” shouted a pleasant voice a few yards in front. An elderly couple stood before me; they looked like the perfect old Asian couple, as if they had been taken directly from an anime show and brought to life. Though they were quite aged, a distinct youthful glow radiated from both of them, highlighted even more by the kindness that burned in their squinted, wrinkled eyes.
“Grandma! Grandpa!” I exclaimed while hugging them both. My grandmother smelled like pure comfort with a slight hint of flowers, a scent that to this day returns to me in the most peculiar of places. My grandfather mumbled something in Japanese that I couldn’t understand. I simply smiled and nodded, trying to appear polite.
After a few minutes I found myself at their restaurant, a small yet well-established setting filled with businessmen and the smell of sake. I was seated next to a businessman, his ruffled hair, thick glasses, and tired eyes gave him an appearance of exhaustion, yet he still pulled off a smile as he saw me. I must have looked like a dog in captivity, shy and uncertain in everything I did. However, the man scooted over to my table and grabbed two glass cups and a kettle brimming with a hot scented liquid.
He began to pour me the tea, its vapor rose up and caressed my face. “Hello,” he said timidly in broken English, “My name is Tanaka. You must be Hino’s grandchild.”
I introduced myself as Yukimitsu, my given Japanese name. “Ahh yes,” Tanaka seemed excited, having communicated successfully with an outsider. It was amazing that a complete stranger would take the time to make me feel comfortable, when he clearly looked so beat down and tired. We quickly engaged in a conversation filled with awkward chuckles, patient smiles, and failed attempts in multiple pronunciations. I gently sipped my tea, ignoring its vapid taste for I was completely engulfed in this man’s outlandish tale of Japan’s festivals, districts, and way of life. He even explained his close connection to my grandmother, and how she was practically a mother to him.
As we began to leave the restaurant and said our final goodbyes, I knew that my doubts had vanished. I no longer questioned myself and my abilities to communicate in a distant land. It seemed that everyone was so approachable and genuine, giving me every chance to make myself at home. It didn’t matter if we spoke a fragment of each others’ languages. A simple nod or a smile was all that was needed to convey a meaning. Though I would never see this man again, our few words together were enough to display the essence of Japan.
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