Monday, March 14, 2011

Our Brush with Japan, Kana

"The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes." 
                             -- Marcel Proust

Life has most definitely NOT been ordinary around here.  We've been gifted with a new pair of eyes, Kana.  Mary Kate's high school has a "sister school" -- how cool is that?  Her sister school is located in Fukuoka, Japan. Usually, twenty five students from the Nakamura Gakuen Girls Senior High School visit my daughter's high school but for some reason 37 were on the list for their visit in March and so a scramble began to find some extra families willing to host a student for 10 days.  I saw the email, checked the dates, and then dismissed the thought from my mind: life is too crazy -- two high school sports, four different kids and school schedules, maybe next year.  Then I got a text from John citing the email..."What do you think?  It'd be pretty cool." John and I often have a synchronicity that's weird and this was one of those times.  His text was the nudge that made me switch from: life's too crazy to why not?  And that is how we found our family holding up a sign welcoming a complete stranger, Kana Shimizu, into our lives for the next 10 days.

Did we know what we were getting into?  No clue.  My whole world for the past nine days has been mind-bending and world altering.  Suddenly, I see my world with new eyes.  As I was driving home from picking up Kana that first day I was so proud.  Weirdly proud to show off my country.  I wanted to take her to my favorite places, have her delight in my favorite foods, show her what made my city great and just generally be "the hostess with the mostest".  

But, as I got on the freeway, it was as if I was seeing my world for the first time.  People, freeways (at least in my neck of the USA) are not attractive.  There's no pretty landscaping, no sleek roadways, just a whole lot of ugly billboards and pretty lame plants in the divider.  I wanted to begin weeding the divider!!! Where was our national pride?? How could my precious homeland be so junky?

As we arrived into our driveway and began to get out of the car, the local ice-cream man drove by.  I kid you not, the man made a U-turn and stopped in front of my house.  OK, I'm willing to admit that we buy a lot of ice cream from him in the summer...but a rainy day in March?  Now. The man picks now, to have the hard sell?  I cringed but I had to buy some ice cream from him.  How American can you get having a Pakistani entrepreneur welcoming my Japanese exchange student with a Bug's Bunny popsicle with blue bubble gum eyes?  It was classic.

Thankfully, Kana is adventurous in almost every way and food is no exception.  She loved her rocket pop and with a level of Japanese neatness I am personally in awe of managed to eat every last molecule of that taste treat. After more than 24 grueling hours of travel, Kana put up with our extremely limited ability to communicate with good humor and extreme patience.  We discovered that you don't need language to take a dog for a walk, play Uno, learn how to fold origami, play hide and go seek, play ping pong and eat snacks.  We learned that a smile and a curious heart can let you travel all the way across the world.  

I learned how to count to ten in Japanese, how to say "Happy Birthday" in Japanese and many details of Japanese life.  Did you know that cars in Japan have the steering wheel on the right hand side?  Except for if you are really rich, then you buy one that drives on the left as a status symbol. :)  That conversation has made me ponder for days the reason our steering wheels are placed where they are.  What is the purpose? 

Showing Kana our world has made me open my heart to another part of the world.  As I watch Kana's bravery in navigating bleachers at Jack's volleyball game, trying nachos for the first time which includes dealing with that oozy cheese, and see her repeat herself with a shy smile and communicate in halting English when I know this brilliant girl could spill out a flurry of Japanese if only I could understand, I want to hug her parents a world away.  I want them to know just how grateful I am that they allowed her on this adventure.  I want them to know how proud I am of her ability to work through the cultural differences and find the commonalities that we all know to be true: laughter, love, smiles and acts of generosity are beyond any language barrier.  Mostly, Kana's parents have shown me that letting your child spread their wings is most definitely a worthy endeavor.

In just a few short months I'm going to have to let Jack go and begin his life adventure with college.  I'm going to have to hope that his bright light will be nourished and nurtured by the people he meets along his travels. I'm going to have to know in my heart that he is brave and brilliant and adventurous and most of all, ready.  Just like Kana.  Thank you Mr. and Mrs. Shimizu, your bright light, Kana, has certainly lightened up our world and helped us all to know the joy of learning and growth, most of all me.


  1. Kana is so cute! I'm so glad I got to meet her:) What an awesome experience for everyone involved!

  2. Happy & sad at the same time. My heart aches for the people of Japan...but I'm so happy you had this opportunity to meet such an awesome person from a completely different culture. You're an awesome person to begin with...but an even better person because of this experience & your willingness & desire to learn more from are remarkable, Beth. LOVE this post...{as usual}