This week, we’re discussing our longest trip away from home. That’s pretty easy for me, since my family moved from Yokohama, Japan to Grand Rapids, Michigan just before I was a year old. So a visit to see our relatives means taking a trip of more than 6000 miles each way.
When I was young, there wasn’t a lot of money for anything but day trips. I was about fifteen years old the first time Mom went back to see her mother and siblings. Mom’s father had passed away by this time, and I think Dad felt guilty about that, because afterwards he saved up so that she could make the trip every five years or so. Of course, she made the trip alone, because flights were so expensive. My brothers and I were old enough to take care of ourselves while dad was at work (though mom probably disagreed). I finally made the trip with her about a year after I became a mom, so it was kind of fitting that I left Japan as a one-year-old, and then returned WITH a one-year-old. I remember being so glad to finally meet my cousins, whom I’d seen growing up through pictures, and my grandmother, who seemed much tinier than I’d imagined. I remember seeing sights and sounds that were so unusual, yet familiar. And I remember being SO frustrated that I couldn’t communicate with anyone except one aunt who knew a little bit of English.
The next time I went to Japan, there were four of us – Mom, my daughter, her husband, and me. My daughter was actually three months pregnant at the time, and spent a lot of the trip quite nauseated, but she was a trooper. (My youngest daughter couldn’t get the time away from work, but she went with her grandma a few years later.) This time, I’d taken two years of Japanese class at the university where I teach, so I understood a little bit more about what was going on. My relatives made a special effort to take us to places where there was an English-speaking guide, and I found and booked us on an English language bus tour of Tokyo. I think that in major cities, there’s more of an effort to have signs in different languages due to the rise in travelers. My blond, six foot four son-in-law attracted a lot of curious looks, but they embraced him as a member of the family.
Thanks to Facebook, I was able to share pictures and adventures immediately, since I took my laptop along. So in preparing for this post, I didn’t have to look long and hard to find the pictures I wanted. The only difficult part was choosing which pictures to include!
Japan has a rich and fascinating history, and my aunt, a history buff, made sure we visited a lot of the country’s historical sites, especially when she discovered my son-in-law majored in history. At the time, I was working on The Samurai’s Garden, so I soaked up as much of the historical stuff as I could.
The best part of the trip, though, was connecting with my extended family. Two of my cousins are on Facebook now, so we’re able to communicate regularly. But it’s not the same. When I got home, I resolved to return as quickly as possible. It’s been eight years now, so I guess I’d better start making plans to go back!