It’s been almost a month since the 4th biggest earthquake on the record hit my home country Japan. Many of us who live outside of Japan spent these past several weeks in emotional turmoil. I still remember when my friend in San Jose called me at 10:00pm that night telling me about the earthquake. I saw my brother’s facebook message, asking me to try and contact my parents. I tried calling their cell phones, leaving voicemail message and text messages. It wasn’t until the next morning that I finally talked to my mother, and eventfully with my father. While I couldn’t reach them, I chose to believe that they had gotten stuck somewhere when they were trying to get home due to the transportation system in Japan halting for the earthquake. In the meantime, I learned that things were getting worse by minute – a big tsunami hit after the earthquake, and then the problems with the nuclear plants occurred. From what I read on twitter feeds and various media outlets, small earthquakes kept occurring and things were far from over. It was the end of the world as we knew it. (By the way, my husband who was editing this post commented on this sentence “a little dramatic, don’t you think?” but I disagree. I think something has shifted that day and we are yet to see its full effect.)
During the first few days after the main earthquake, what I saw and heard constantly was (apart from the devastation of this disaster) that non-Japanese people applauding how calm and caring Japanese people were in the face of these difficulties. There was no looting or violence which one would expect should a similar thing happen in other places. One of my Japanese friends wrote in his blog that when this particular aspect of the disaster was discussed in the ESL class, someone asked why there was no looting or violence in cases like this in Japan. This was a pivotal point for me to realize that this is one of the main reasons why I want my children to have the experience of living in Japan. I want them to know our way, not like foreigners seeing us from outside, but want them to live there and breathe our philosophy – or what being a Japanese person means in situations like this.
I know that what is happening right now is tragic and there is so much political and historical discussions around what we should do about the nuclear plant or our dependency on it, and that the government’s and TEPCO’s response to the situation leaves a lot to be desired. Also, Japan’s cultural nature to conform to group values vice putting individual values first has its downside – being different is not always welcomed or accepted, and we feel strong pressure from people in the group to be just like them. People criticize lack of strong leadership on the government’s side, but it is very challenging to be a leader in our country because you are not meant to be different or stand out, and also supporting leaders is not our strongest qualities (they go hand in hand; who wants to take charge when all they get is criticism?) I’ve been thinking how to show my children the best of both worlds. How can my son learn the have a healthy balance between doing what’s best for the team, and putting himself first so he can live his life as he sees fit? I want him to contribute and be a member of a society, and I want him to stand out and speak up as he desires. It will be a long learning experience for all of the cross-cultural couples like us. One thing I’m determined to continue as long as I can is to tell them “I love you” every night when I tuck them in bed. Also, I will have my sons call each other by their names even though that’s now what we do in Japan – usually younger brother calls older one “Oni-chan” (older brother) and not by name. I have my own theory about what this might do to my kids. Whether calling each other by name and not by their roles does what I think it would, only time will tell. In the meantime, I continue to be the best “me” I can be and live fully. As we have all seen, you’ll never know what tomorrow brings.