Near Yellow Mountain

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

A quaking reflection

My family moved to Japan on 2/29/2000. It's been 12 years but this leap year day is only the third anniversary of the move. Yes, a rather insignificant fact but one that sticks with me for some reason.

Being in Japan on my "anniversary day" probably caused more reflection than if I had been home in North Carolina. The evening we arrived in Japan as a family it snowed heavily bringing much skepticism from my wife and daughters who I had assured that "the weather in Kobe is just like North Carolina". We left Charlotte on a warm (60 degree) late winter morning and landed in the biggest snow Kobe experienced in the five plus years we were to live in Japan. Dad's credibility as a source of knowledge about Japan was shot before we got off the bus from the airport to the hotel. Beyond that, it was the coldest March anyone could remember. Not a great start to the ex-pat experience.

Fortunately the weather broke in early April, the cherry blossoms came and five interesting years of experiences were ahead of us. We did not experience our first significant earthquake until we had been in Japan for nine months. Our apartment building was built with "earthquake proof" technology which assured us of an "extended ride" during each quake as the rockers beneath the build activated to disperse quake's energy. My daughter's and I became very matter of fact about quakes but my wife never came to terms with the arrival of the unpredictable movements.

Fortunately earthquakes did not define our experience in Japan. We learned to adapt to a culture very different than our own. Kobe became our second home. We were "strangers in a strange land" but, in time, became a part of the fabric of the local community . After more than five years as we were moving to Shanghai, I picked up my dry cleaning at the local shop for the last time. When I told the lady at the shop we were leaving, she looked very sad. My ability to communicate with her, which was a bench mark for my progress with the language, had grown from pantomime about "heavy starch" to having normal conversations about everyday life. The feeling that I would be missed by this nice older lady was somehow comforting.

As I said down to "write something" this morning before going to the hotel gym. I looked out from my room to the grounds of the Imperial Palace. As happened on our arrival 12 years prior, the 29th of February brought snow. I took a picture of the white blanket covering Tokyo and thought of the past 12 years. Then, the floor began to gently slide back and forth. A shallow but extended quake came and went. I go home tomorrow but I am also home today........