I wrote this for a contest I did not win...
My dear Japan,
How I've missed you. It's been a long time since I left your shores. I've grown up a little, come to understand you a bit more, thought about how little I had to offer you and how much you gave to me. We've both changed, Japan, both become older and hopefully wiser. I cried for you, you know? When disaster struck, I cried for the land I once knew and the people I loved. I'd love to see you again; to make the flashes of memories solid once again.
We were not always the best of friends, were we Japan? I was young and away from home. You were ancient and dignified and hard to come to grips with. I struggled with your customs and your reserve. You gave me something special though, a group of middle aged housewives who were ready to spill the beans on how life really was. It wouldn’t have been fun without them. I have always been grateful for my guides though the muddy waters of being a gaijin in a strange new world. I was ready to leave, as now I’m ready to come back. How have you changed, Japan? Are you different now, or do you remain the same?
You always fascinated me, Japan. Coming from an island myself I always wondered how so many people could live together in such a small place. The answer is order, not control as I first thought. There are rules, Japan, that you expect people to live by. We all have rules; though I guess less people usually abide by them. It is the small defiances that intrigued me. The people in parks dressed as punk rockers – how their parents must despair: The slightly shocking frission of a love hotel: the need to travel the world and see what else there is. It’s rebellion on a small, private scale. I love it about you; the way people follow the crowd, but make their own way.
You fed me well, my friend. I loved it: sushi, sashimi, katsu curry, okonomiyaki, those octopus ball things from Osaka. In New Zealand the sushi is 'unusual.' In the UK it is even worse. I want to sit in front of one of your chefs and be fed the best parts of a fish, simply sliced, on rice. It is perfection. I want to go back to Cococihiban and remember that Japan can take the best of other cultures too. Do you still have Beard Papa? I loved those choux pastry things. They were delicious. Oh, and Izakaya. It’s been too long since I heard the welcoming call of one of your pubs, far too long.
Do you remember my Hello Kitty toaster? I loved that thing. My toast had Hello Kitty on both sides. It was totally Kawaii!
When I was homesick and far from home one Christmas you cheered me up with a trip to an Onsen. Do you remember? It was in Nagano, I think. It was outside and snow was falling all around. That’s magic, Japan. You cheered me up that day with your beauty and the simplicity of appreciating nature. I remember the ebullience of summer festivals, the joy of spring and the quiet simplicity of nature that Christmas day. I can’t remember autumn though. I remember people telling me about it. Maybe I was away. I’d love to see the trees. I remember my students saying ‘Japan has four seasons’ like it is something unusual, but you do take delight in each one. It reminds people that not so long ago you had an agricultural society and that your land is a great asset.
Your land, Japan, your beautiful land, mountains and beaches and forest, stretched out from the tropics to the frozen north. Though covered in parts by a grey urban sprawl that at times seems unassailable, you always make sure that people remember your power and that beauty comes at a price. We are cousins in this respect; the islands of New Zealand are shaky too and we are always aware of the power of the land which we borrow for such a fleeting time. Take care of your people, Japan. They have suffered greatly in the last year. Keep them safe.
If only, Japan, I hadn’t been so young and so far away from home. If only I had appreciated you more. If only I had learnt more, spoken more, asked more questions, seen you more clearly; if only we had more time to get to know each other. If only I had learnt your language properly, if only I had taken the time to see more of you. If only I had explored more, seen more, written more, done more. If only, my friend, if only…