I just returned from Japan, having participated in a Japanese-American Leadership Delegation trip sponsored by Japan’s Foreign Ministry, the Japan Foundation Center for Global Partnership, and the Japanese-American National Museum in Los Angeles (highly recommended if you’re ever in LA). The purpose of the trip was to improve understanding and strengthen relationships between Japanese-Americans and Japan by meeting and exchanging information with leaders in politics, government, business, and culture. This is of particular importance given the history between the two countries, especially during World II when many Japanese-Americans were incarcerated in remote concentration camps in the US.
Despite the fact that my grandparents came from Japan, I had never visited, and to do so in a way that allowed such exposure and access was pretty amazing – we met with VIPs ranging from Prime Minister Fukuda to Princess Takamado to young (really young, like 30-year-old!) members of Parliament, and a host of others. My first few days were spent in a sort of “Lost in Translation“-style, jet lag-induced haze, and the packed schedule (7 official meetings on Monday alone) didn’t allow much time for acclimation, so I’m still processing everything we experienced. NHK, Japan’s public broadcasting network, also followed and filmed us, and since I was the one “newbie” in the group of 13 delegates from around the US, they were always interested in what I thought, which made me a bit self conscious.
And what did I think? On one level, having lived in and visited other “great cities” of the world, Tokyo seemed like, well, another great city, albeit one where most people looked like me (although my inability to communicate was slightly disconcerting). But on another level, the opportunity to visit ancestral “roots” touched me in an entirely different way. Things seemed familiar, even though they were new to me, but I was also struck that the Japan I thought I knew was actually the Japan my grandparents brought with them when they emigrated to the US-I realized that I needed to update my perceptions about today’s Japan.
All of the people we met talked about connections-the need to build, nurture, and continuously renew ties between governments, institutions, and most of all, people. In the abstract, I couldn’t agree more. But it wasn’t until we visited the southern city of Fukuoka, where my maternal grandmother was born, and I caught a glimpse of the harbor where she first embarked on her journey to the US nearly a hundred years ago, that the idea of connection suddenly felt more important, emotional, and real.
GlobalGiving was founded on the notion that everyone in the world is interconnected. I’m grateful for the opportunity I had to create this connection with my own family’s history, and to get a greater perspective on my place in the world.