TRICK-OR-TREAT. HAPPY HALLOWEEN. MISSING EVERYONE BACK HOME!
Happy Halloween Eve! It’s Sunday night, October 30 in Japan. My kids are sincerely missing their American candy. In fact, when asked by grandma what he wanted for his birthday, Halyard told her he wanted American candy. Skittles and Mike-and-Ikes and Sweedish Fish… anything chewy that sticks in your teeth.
The things at the forefront of my mind, and because it’s Halloween season I’m going to label them SPOOKY, are the constant Orange County references that I keep running into here in Japan. I’m not talking about broad reminders, like someone knows someone whose cousin lives in Yorba Linda. I’m talking about direct associations that have real relevance to me.
This post is sans photos. But there’s a lot of interesting stories here about the people we’ve met so I hope you’ll keep reading.
In this latest instance, we were Trick-or-Treating around the international school neighborhood on Saturday night when my one of my new friends introduced me to woman who used to live in California. She is a Japanese native but she lived in Sunnyvale for a while. Her name is Moriguchi-san and she told me her two kids have already been through college and flown the coop. When I asked where they are living now, she said her son is up in Northern California and her daughter is in Orange County. Oh? Oh yes, she’s a music teacher at Orange County School of the Arts (OCSA) now. Hmmmm? Come again? The school where our friends attend? Yes! The daughter is Ms. Moriguchi and she teaches instrumental music at OCSA and her mother lives near me in Osaka.
Speaking of OC, the father of a boy in Avalon’s class also used to live in Newport Beach, exclusive Pelican Hill to be exact. He had to sell his house to settle the terms of a divorce though. He said he bought his fancy house for 1.8 million and sold it for 6 million many years later. What luck I guess. While waiting for a class program to start, he and John talked about watch shops in South Coast Plaza and I thought that was so surreal. After his divorce he brought his kids back to Japan to live near his mother.
And speaking of Sunnyvale, another mom of a girl in Avalon’s class told me she lived in Cupertino (home of Apple) for 5 years when her husband was working for a semi-conductor company there. Now she’s back in Japan and living near Kobe, our neighboring town, which is anywhere from 45 min to over an hour away. Her 9 year old daughter rides the bus for 1.5 hours to OIS everyday and back. They’re so far away because they’ve come back to Japan to live next to her parents.
Another mom in Avalon’s class was telling me that she too lived rather far from school, an hour away by car, and she drove her two kids to school everyday an hour each way. She decided she’d had enough of that so now they rent an apartment near the school and they live there Monday to Friday. On the weekends they go back to their house and see their dad/husband.
Avalon’s bestie here, Haruna, is back in Japan to be near family too. Her family lived in the UK for the last 9 years but they’ve come back to live in the town where her mother grew up. They now live in the same apartment building as Haruna’s grandparents. But Haruna’s dad is still stuck in the UK. He has his job there and can only come back to visit every so often. He swings by every now and again, or when his travels take him close enough for a stop over.
Speaking of this type of arrangement, our friends here from the Los Angeles area, Esther and Min and their 3 girls, have also split in this same way. Esther and the girls are here in Minoh and the girls go to OIS with us. I met Esther through our Japanese language classes at the community center. Her husband Min is in LA working and living in their house “back home.” He also swings by every so often and lucky for him his work allows him to stay for about 2 weeks at a time when he can. Min says the neighbors are keeping tabs on him because they love his wife and can’t wait for her return.
The international school community is full of nomads who just love to live abroad. When we met the headmaster of our school we learned that he was head of a school in Serbia until about 3 years ago when he decided to move his family to Japan. His wife told me that she didn’t want to leave Serbia and there wasn’t any good reason to leave, other than the fact that her husband got the itch to go! They also have 2 boys and a girl, the oldest is one of Kaiyo’s 8th grade friends. They are originally from Michigan and at some point they built their “dream home” there. The kind of home you want to retire in. But alas, they sold it because they realized they probably weren’t ever going to live in it. She says her husband owes her one, because she really misses Serbia.
Another family is similar to us in that they moved here to give their kids an experience abroad. The husband was lucky enough to get a job transfer to head up his company’s small office in Osaka. It helps that he speaks Japanese well. Unlike us though, it wasn’t a family decision but rather a parent driven decision. The mom told me that when they let the kids know they were moving to Japan it came as a complete shock. Every one of their four kids, from high school on down to kinder burst into tears and hysterics.
To add salt to their wound, they unfortunately arrived from the US at the same time as the workers’ strike at the Port of Long Beach. I remember that! All those cargo ships backed up in the ocean with nowhere to go. The mom told me that their belongings were stuck at the port for months. It was wintertime and they had no furniture and nothing warm other than what they brought in their suitcases. People they met actually loaned them warm things! They’ve been here almost two years and it seems like they’ve all adjusted by now.
These stories about how families got here and why they are here are so interesting. Even the owner of our house has shuffled around the world. Andrew and his wife and three girls lived in New Zealand for many years, then moved to Japan for several years and now they’ve gone off to the UK and let us live here for the year. Speaking of unfortunate arrivals, Andrew told us that they arrived in Japan from New Zealand on the exact day of the big Tohoku earthquake and tsunami. It sounded like bedlam. Pretty much every man for himself and don’t mind the aftershocks… Now his oldest daughter has graduated from high school and is attending a university in New Zealand.
John and Halyard have just spent the weekend away at a water polo competition. They were assisted by one English speaking parent who came with his son. This Japanese dad speaks very good English because back at the age of 18 he decided, on his own, that he wanted to study in America. So he moved himself to California and lived near the border of CA and Oregon. Then he went south and attended school in Irvine. But he didn’t like it much so he went on to finish up at San Jose State University. Later he went back to Japan and got married to a Japanese woman that he’d met in California. Still later they moved to New Jersey for several years. His boys were born there. Then on to Germany for a few years. Now he’s back in Japan. His current job has him traveling to Europe frequently.
These kinds of stories are not uncommon in our circle here, which just boggles my mind. Every time I meet someone new, with this theme in their life, I just find it amazing all over again. I guess it’s kind of like being a military family, except the government isn’t sending these families, they’re sending themselves. And they don’t have the structure and community of a government organization at their back. These types of sacrifices to live near family, to attend a special school, to give your kids a certain experience (I guess we fall into this category), to live without your comforts from home, to leave your friends, can only be done with a unique mindset, no matter where you are. The idea that you’re going to step out into the unknown, to take yourself away from what’s comfortable, you’re not going to see your spouse or dad for days, weeks or months at a time, or that you’re going to put your child in a 1.5 hour bus commute just to get to school is routine around here! I’ve discovered that sometimes in order to meet these kinds of people (or at least a lot of them) you have to be one.