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I Lived With My Obaachan Until I was Five ...

Although my father made me half Irish, I was completely Japanese. Japanese was my first language. My Obaachan was pre-war Japanese. I had two uncles, my mother’s brothers, who got married during that time, and my new aunts were part of the family affair that raised me. My favorite activity was dressing up in kimono.

Me in Kimono-a Christmas Day

But, I was biologically only half Japanese. I was bigger than other children my age. My features were obviously mixed. I don’t really know how it is today in Japan, but Japanese society has always been particularly pure-race conscious. In my current life, some think my look is “exotic,” but in Japan, I was a half-breed and impure. I didn’t know any of this when I was 5 years old. My family didn’t care; to them I was just Ranko-chan and loved by all of them. But they all knew what was in store for me if I grew up in Japanese society.

It came about that I had a chance to be adopted, ironically, to an American military man and his Japanese wife. How perfect was that! When they came to pick me up, as far as I knew, my parents had come to pick me up. At that moment, I recall being very happy because my parents were picking me up.

But since that day when I left my Obaachan, I never quite felt “at home” or that I belonged anywhere. It seems I spent most of my whole life FEELING I didn’t belong. It didn’t matter how nice people were, or how involved I became. I always felt I was standing just outside the line of belonging. I always felt that perhaps I should go away. It’s a lonely place and as far as I was concerned, this is the way I would always feel.

Then, one day I went to Hawaii. As I disembarked the plane, the stewardess said to me, “welcome home.” Not until I walked into the airport and began interacting with the locals did I understand her mistake. This is the lost island of mixed ethnicity, mixed culture, mixed everything. I didn’t feel like “I found my home” or “my tribe.” I wasn’t involved in anything and I knew no one. But, somehow, my ever-present, underlying, life-defining nagging FEELING suddenly turned off. I suddenly knew what it FELT like to NOT feel like that underneath. This was the first time since I was 5 years old that I had a break from that nagging feeling that I should be elsewhere.



I don’t think my journey is unique. It may have been at different times more (or less) magnified than some, but the feelings are the same. Apparently, this sense of belonging somewhere, or at least not being an outsider, is important to us as human beings. And having a nagging feeling that you don’t belong anywhere, and never will – well, that’s just a crummy feeling all around. Worse, and ironically, it makes us keep ourselves always on the outside, by choice.

I feel fortunate to have made a trip to Hawaii and found a land where everyone is all “mixed up” like me. No one called me “exotic” there. No one asked me if I were Native American, Hispanic, Polynesian, Asian, or whatever. No one asked me which tribe I was from. It just didn’t occur to them. I haven’t said goodbye to my feeling of being on the outside, my lifelong companion. What I did get was a moment, then extended into my whole trip, when that feeling was just gone.

Me in Canoe-Hawaii

I now know what it FEELS like to NOT have that nagging feeling. These days, I relive that very moment. And often, I belong right here (except when I go to Hawaii – then I belong right there)! My old friend feeling is still there, but is losing.

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