One evening, shortly after arriving in Tokyo, twenty years ago, I met a man in a bar. His opening line was: “My name is Eilam, guess where I’m from?” Sensing that he might be from the Middle East, I guessed ‘Australia’, not wanting to pick the wrong side in the area’s conflict (he is from Israel). The next day we went to watch cherry blossoms together, and a couple of short months after that I moved in with him. My Japanese employer didn’t like that I left company housing, to go live with somebody I wasn’t married to. “But we are engaged”, I sputtered, which wasn’t true at the time. My company ceremoniously threw us an engagement party and, after that, turned a blind eye.
Here is us shortly after we met:
Here is us as we arrived back at Narita airport twenty years later:
Coming back after twenty years was surreal. Tokyo changed, and stayed much the same. Japan lost it’s technological edge in electronics, to Apple and others, but is trying to stay ahead in robotics and automotive technology. We saw more people express their individuality, for better and worse. There is much less life-long employment and, compared to the rest of the world, Japan is no longer as expensive as it once was.
We felt at home in Japan right away. We have many fond memories of Tokyo from twenty years ago, but being back there again now, I realize how uncertain I really was of myself at that time and how much happier I am now compared to twenty years ago. I also felt a love for my husband that is stronger than ever. Some things really do get better with age.
We tried to show our children where we met, but there was little to no interest. Eleven said: “So if you didn’t go to this bar, I wouldn’t be there”, but the others asked: “Can we eat now.” We couldn’t even get them to turn their heads in the direction of the former bar (it’s no longer there). In the end we choose the present, and let the past be. At least each of our children grew quite fond of the country, and sharing that feeling is enough for me.
While we didn’t visit our former apartment or place of work, we did manage to visit the park of our first date. We have a picture of that first date in Yoyogi park. It was in the Spring cherry blossom season. It hangs on our wall in The United States, but I don’t have it with me on this trip.
Here is the re-creation, twenty years later:
And with the whole family: