“My grandparents were taken from California and put in various internment camps, then they moved to Chicago. My Great Granddad actually came to the United States from Japan, my family stayed there and everyone married into the Japanese community that was already there. There was a lot of difficult history in that period with the internment camps. After moving to Chicago, they really tried to distance themselves from their heritage. They didn’t speak Japanese and they didn’t want my Mom to speak Japanese, all in an effort to appear more American. Even so, my Mom was bullied quite a bit in school for being Japanese to which my grandparents just said `try and be as American as possible’. As a Japanese American who loves Japan, It’s been interesting because I think, I’m the first person in my family to turn back towards Japan. My Mom had never been to Japan until I invited her here.
I had a conversation with her recently asking her `how does she feel being a Japanese American?’ because as soon as she married she got rid of her Japanese middle name, because she hated it. It was ‘Masako’ which I think is really pretty, but people used to call her ‘Sak’ or ‘Sako’ and made fun of her for it.
“She didn’t feel a lot of Japanese pride. She doesn’t make Japanese food and we don’t have any Japanese things in our house, but I think that the fact that I’ve come here and had experiences here, and shown her what I love about this country, I think, in her own way, she’s reclaiming that part of herself that she didn’t really know about before and that makes me really happy.
“The thing that caught my imagination the most is Japan itself. If you look at what I’ve done in my life, in some ways it’s all connected to this country. I still remember my first trip here, it was transformative. For example, I learnt the value of trying new things and I’m more willing to open myself up to new experiences. I’m kind of lovesick for it. It’s the thread that ties my life together. There’s something about this place and the people I meet here.
“I feel like I pine for it the way that I pine for people. When I’m away from Japan for a long time, I watch videos and look at pictures of it, and cook Japanese food. Just being close to it makes me excited in the same way as being close to someone who strikes a chord with me makes me excited. I get goosebumps when I come back here. I was so afraid that the feeling was going to go away. I thought `This can’t last, right?’ or `I’m going to get jaded at some point, right?’ That fear also makes me want to enjoy it now while I still feel that way.”
Interview & photograph by: Mark Horbury