This week’s blog will be a personal reflection of my recent week in Japan where I went with my two younger sisters and step-mother for the purpose of joining my father’s ashes to my mother’s in two cemeteries, the Hachioji Cemetery and the Aoyama Cemetery in Tokyo. My mother passed away in 1986 at age 64, in her final year as a missionary for the United Church of Christ. My father passed away last October in Florida at the age of 93. I write to you while enjoying my dried persimmons and quality green tea brought back as “treasures” to enjoy.
Each morning, at the Sun Hotel in Shinjuku, I was able to enjoy a delicious Japanese breakfast of rice, miso, boiled seaweed, pickled plums and cucumbers, lotus root, grilled salmon, mackerel and egg, while reading the very wide pages of the Japan Times with eager curiosity. Two items stood out for me. One was an article on the amount of child pornography in Japan and how little is being done to contain it or control its distribution. Very disappointing, indeed, and doesn’t reflect well on the Japanese attitudes towards children. The second was on the amount of thyroid cancer diagnosed in children exposed to the Fukushima nuclear site meltdown. Some doctors are saying there is more cancer; the government saying this is not the case, and since most people don’t trust the government to tell the truth, they make their own conclusions that there is a definite increase in the cases of thyroid cancer.
As we came and went from the hotel in taxis, or private cars, we took in the architectural changes to Shibuya and Shinjuku, observed the current fashions of young people and generally got a snap shot impression of some aspects that appear to have changed over the years since we had been in Japan. Obligatory ceremonial functions took two of our five days so we were left with three days to pursue our own agendas, mostly gustatory, and looking for special items to take home to our loved ones. Tasty persimmons were in season, as were tangerines, eaten while we viewed the changing colors of the foliage travelling up to the 5th level of Mt. Fuji by private car where we saw busloads of Asians and other foreigners disgorge from busses, but few actual Japanese. A sushi meal at the famed Tsujita Fish Market, which is to be closed and relocated on Nov 6th, was not nostalgic for me as it will be for most Japanese, as I had never been there before, but certainly was my last opportunity. Japanese high cuisine has become more “French like” and Sukiyaki and Tempura no longer seem to take center stage at very important events.
Of course, we were able to spend important time with friends of our childhood and adult life, refresh our rather “feeble” Japanese and experience the schizophrenia of being a third culture child probing backwards and forwards to connect this current experience together with our past. The attached photo of Kwan Yin is one I took at the Hachioji Cemetery. Her smiling presence greeted me as we drove up the winding hillsides of traditional Buddhist grave sites to the one Christian site, where the members of the Kyodan Church bury their members. The minister officiating at the ceremony never knew my father, being a very young minister, but he was representative of the type of man that my father gave many years of service trying to raise up and we knew my father would have been pleased. We left Japan, not knowing when me might return, if ever, but that is the way it is with one’s journey in life.
Celeste A. Miller