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LOOKING BACK -- Our Time in Otowa (With the cooperation of my grandchildren)

Happy Spring Equinox! (for northern hemisphere dwellers) Two years ago this month, my son’s family, with Covid snapping at their heels, moved into our house from 8 years in the United States, where they lived for my son’s job. For two years my son worked remotely, while the kids had the adventure of going to a rural Japanese school, and my daughter-in-law held down the fort with housecleaning, cooking and childrearing. Now my son has been called back to the States for another overseas job stint, and the house will go back to sheltering only 2 people instead of 6.

Two Years in Otowa, by Julia Otowa (age 12)

We have lived in Hino for 2 years, and my thoughts about this place have changed. When we visited, I liked to “explore” the house, because we only visited during summer break and stuff.

But 2 years later, I find myself thinking, “Here it goes again”. The same sights, the same people, the same everything. Different to visiting, we’re actually living there, so there’s nothing really new to see, or to do. If you want to start doing ice hockey or something, you have to make time in order to go to the actual place and do the actual thing, which is kind of a drag because a lot of things are far away.

I really don’t know how I’m going to feel when we move. I’m not going to miss the bugs, that’s for sure. Disgusting centipedes and cockroaches, annoying flies and such. But I will miss the mountains and the peaceful shrines and temples. I guess even this countryside has pros and cons too. Pros: growing your own produce, mountains, rice fields. Cons: far away from everything, nothing really new. To be honest, the countryside is isolated, so whenever you want to go to your friend’s house, your options are limited. The school I go to only has 80 kids, and one grade only has 5 kids in it. My grade had 18 people, but some people I’m not friends with, so I only have a handful of kids that I can go play at their house.

I’m going to miss my friends. The thought of making new friends when we move makes me exhausted. I mean, I’m used to it, but every single time it feels like, “Am I doing this for the first time?”. You have to navigate your way through frenemies, friendships, and also break ups and betrayals. It’s hard, and it feels like “Is there any point?!” but I know it’s important. No matter how hard it is, I want to keep trying to make new friends and never give up.

I’m also going to miss Japanese food. The place we’re going to move to is America, so it’s pretty understandable that after 2 years of Japanese food, I greet this piece of news with a sigh. One thing that interested me was that Japanese food at New Year’s has a meaning. Yellow stuff is for gold and prosperity, and long noodles (such as soba) are for long life. Also, before we eat, we would say itadakimasu, which basically means you giving gratitude to the people and animals who made effort to bring the meal to the table. And after, we would say gochisousama, which means you’re saying thank you for the meal. We try to eat most of the food so none of it goes to waste. But in the US, some people take only one bite and then toss the whole thing away, without appreciating it. At the school lunch, there are some foods I don’t like, but at least I try to eat all of it. Plus, the school lunch in Japan is very healthy. In America, umm……… not so much. Some people eat McDonalds everyday or some people eat donuts and cheese and plain butter (actually eating the whole stick) most of the time. I’m going to work on not being too fat when we move.

Well, no matter how hard living here was, I’m glad I got to experience it. I learned a lot of important lessons here, so I want to make good use of those lessons and morals in the States. I hope we can have a good time in America, and I’m sure, these 2 years, I’m never going to forget (in a good way)

Living in Otowa by Yugo Otowa (age 10)

I have been living in Japan for two years. The best thing that I liked about the countryside is that we can harvest our own veggies. The thing that I do not like about the countryside is that everything is far away. For example, the closest super market is 10 minutes.

Anyway, one day our grandma said that she is going to rescue 2 cats. They’re brothers. The 1st cat is black. The second one is grey tiger and white mixed. Their personalities are very different. DAISY is very nervous, but BORIS is very friendly. But I like both of Grandma’s pets.

I can not wait to go to America but I will miss this place too.

I guess it’s natural that my family would think this place is isolated (though compared to other places in Japan it does have big cities relatively nearby) after the ultra-convenient suburbs of Texas and Northern California. It took me a long time to get used to living here too, but in my case there were a few big factors in my favor. First, I really wanted to live in the countryside, whereas they didn’t. Also, from the first I loved the house, and when you love something like that, you work around the shortcomings. Finally, my mother-in-law made it very clear that this was where I would be living, my husband and I taking our turn in the generation line. Perhaps I did have a choice, but I didn’t experience it that way. Therefore I had to concentrate on things I could do here, and alone, such as writing and painting. Isolation wasn’t an obstacle for those kinds of pursuits. I thought of going out to the city as a treat, and when I came home I felt the deep peace of this place and was very grateful to be living here instead of in some city apartment block.

I hope that each member of my son’s family will take some memory close to their heart from this, the ancestral home, as they go back to live in the United States. Best wishes to all, and may each of your separate journeys be fruitful and challenging. We will be here to welcome you next time you visit.

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