For many years, especially since retirement, I’ve made attempts to learn to speak Japanese and rekindle memories of listening and speaking with my mother. I knew I was missing something in my life I had to pursue. I enrolled in formal and informal language classes and acquired books on how to write hiragana. I had conversations in Japanese in my head. Some of my satisfying and memorable moments were conversing with Tomomi, a woman from Japan married to a Canadian. She generously shared her Japanese cuisine and conversed briefly in Japanese and inspired me to expand my vocabulary. But more importantly, she brought back words and expressions long forgotten in the natural course of daily conversation. It was satisfying and comfortable.
For example: because I have health issues related to my lungs I knew the word iki or breath early on. Recently I learned ikikaeru. The breakdown of iki –kaeru is literally – breath returns or comes back. In English we say resuscitate. I understand a holistic concept of resuscitate in the word ikikaeru….the image and importance is all bundled in the word. This is a tiny example of a certain emotional or bodily response to how I respond to Japanese.
In my old age I’ve forgotten so many things, but there are windows that open from time to time that make my life more complete and less uneasy about not belonging. These unexpected flashes of memories like taste of food, smells of places or things or snatches of lullabies and songs and even words or expressions in a long forgotten language. Of course not all happy, but they fill in parts of my understanding of how I’ve come to who and what I am today. I’ve never lost sleep over not belonging, although there were times I was angry, but in the whole scheme of things, I was always so fortunate to have good friends from diverse backgrounds and cultures that enriched my childhood. Even in my adult life, I’ve been able to experience living and working in different cultural settings that are going through changes but re-claiming lost or forgotten knowledge. As is the Nikkei community, slowly evolving into a community unimagined twenty years ago.