Dear Family and Friends,
I had not been to America in almost four years. But I went last month. I wanted to clear out a storage unit I had had for over thirty years. It was time to get things back into circulation. At this stage, life is no longer about holding on, but rather about putting into circulation and letting go.
Corona brought many changes worldwide. But abruptly returning to America was like being hit with amazement. There was so much I had forgotten, or that had changed significantly.
There were two things that struck me first. America’s beauty and sizes. I had not been there in spring for almost forty, maybe fifty, years. So, I delighted in the gracious splendor of the season. The entire east coast seemed green and bedecked with flowering trees, especially cherry. It touched me deeply to see a necklace of pink blossoms extending from New England to Maryland (and probably much further). I smiled thinking of my Japanese friends who often ask if America has Sakura. Yes, it does. And not only the famous ones in DC (which Japan gave over a hundred years ago). They now seem to almost cover the country.
America thinks big. The size of trucks alone was rather daunting. They were huge and hundreds of them zoomed along highways, right next to small passenger vehicles. The roads themselves were enormous, some six lanes in one direction. And everyone seemed in a hurry.
People, too, have expanded in size. All emphasized by the lycra clothing popular today. What surprised me more than the sizes themselves, however, was the matter-of-fact acceptance that this change was something completely normal. And exposing it was, too. Japanese have been getting fatter, too. But compared to many Americans, they look like stick figures.
I reveled in the variety of so much in America. Variety of races, of cultures, of languages, of food. The blending of people and customs was thrilling. Walking down a street in New York or even strolling on the green in a small town in Maryland was like taking a trip around the world.
The food was splendid. Sizes and portions are much larger, of course. Milk products in particular stuck me, probably because they are richer and fuller than what I buy in Japan. Cottage cheese was a daily delight. So were ice cream and yogurt. Cheese was sprinkled or melted on many dishes. In fact, it was hard to have a meal without it.
There were many ethnic restaurants, even in very small towns. Mexican, Pakistani, and Lebanese were favorites. But there were plenty of Italian and Spanish, and of course, Indian, Vietnamese and Soul. To name a few.
Another thing that struck me about Americans was their self-confidence. Their basic energy seemed to be an outward thrust, a positive attitude, a sense of being able to do anything. And people spoke their ideas loudly, even in public places. It was very common to hear friends discussing relationship problems or emotional issues as they walked down a street. Everything seemed so overt, especially in comparison to the Japanese way of keeping things private and not revealing one’s innermost self.
One more small, but significant, observation concerned toddlers in daycare. In New York there were many nannies pushing strollers. Sometimes there were two, but more often three, four, even five wee ones in one stroller. Each child had an individual seat and was quite separate from the others. In Japan, however, very small children are moved about in what looks like an open box on wheels. All the kids are placed together in one unified space. This allows them to know they are always part of a group. So, something as simple as how children are transported can subtly instill a sense of personal identity, whether individualistic or collective.
I was fascinated watching myself in America. I have not lived there for forty-five years, but even so, I could feel my American roots rising to the surface when I was there. Simple things, like standing with my hands in my back pockets or sitting with one ankle perched on the opposite knee. The way I chatted with people or flowed along in conversations were different from how I do it in Japan. It felt very familiar, as if I were in my younger years and home.
It was a good trip, excellent, in fact. I feel a deep love and appreciation for the country of my birth, my upbringing, my family and friends. America has its problems, yes. But there is so much hope there, too. Of course, with all the vicissitudes happening everywhere now, I wonder what America’s – and the world’s — next chapter will be.