Among Two Worlds

I just left home. Now I’m home again.

In other words, I left the US last week and made it to Japan safely. I stayed in Tokyo for a few days, eating Thanksgiving dinner at an American family’s house and continuing my 4-year streak of not being in America for such a North American Holiday. I reconnected with Japanese friends, whom I’ve known since kindergarten and elementary school. I went to church in Ueda where I grew up, and in true Japanese fashion they threw me a dinner party even though I insisted that they not make a big deal. Then I rode the train and returned to Shiga Kogen, where I will stay again this winter for about a month.

Seeing Mt. Fuji from Tokyo with American friends

Seeing Mt. Fuji from Tokyo with American friends

It is strange to me how completely different my two worlds are, yet how completely I can belong to each simultaneously. Americans can’t imagine a white boy like me speaking fluent Japanese, and Japanese people ask me fairly frequently if I can speak English. I can see where they’re coming from. When someone seems so American or so Japanese, it’s hard to imagine that person as anything else. It’s like trying to imagine a long-haired person you just met with short hair: You can’t do it.

Although I have inhabited both worlds for quite some time now, I’m becoming increasingly aware of my need to choose one. I want to live somewhere. I don’t want to just float from one destination to the next because it’s too easy to run away from things that matter. Living somewhere means knowing people and involving yourself in everyday life. It means having seasons, even if some of them aren’t your favorite. I’m sure the snowbird lifestyle suits some, but I’m not convinced that it’s healthy or what God desires for our lives. We need more meaning than air-conditioned villas, well-groomed golf-courses and perpetual summer. Comfort is nice sometimes but it’s not a purpose to pursue. Undoubtedly my two world are intertwined and I will always go back and forth between the two. I just don’t want to use that as an excuse not to get down and dirty in the nitty gritty of one.

The difficult thing is that I could see myself choosing either world. I love Robert Frost’s poem about the road less traveled. For my life, it would read “Two roads diverged in the Pacific. I chose ________. It has made all the difference in the world”. Maybe I could live in parallel universes where one Daniel lives here and another one lives there. Or I could time travel and relive one or the other.

Coming to Japan, however, does make me biased. Unlike any other place, when I return to Nagano I breathe a sigh of relief because I finally feel like I’m home. America is great, but I feel like Japan needs me more. From economic stagnation to one of the highest suicide rates in the world, I have opportunities for influence here that I don’t have elsewhere. For now I feel like that is a gift I am meant to use.

Japan also has this meal for 290 yen ($2.50). Who says Japan has to be expensive?

Japan also has this meal for 290 yen ($2.50). Who says Japan has to be expensive?

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What America Means to Me

“You will never be completely at home again, because part of your heart will always be elsewhere. That is the price you pay for the richness of loving and knowing people in more than one place”

– Miriam Adeney

When I reflect on the major holidays over the past few years, I have to first recall in which country I lived at the time. Over the past year alone I spent Thanksgiving in Kenya, Christmas in Mexico, New Years in Japan, and July 4th in America. Each so different, yet I spent quality time with amazing people in each. Sometimes it’s difficult to keep things straight, but I suppose I wouldn’t have it any other way.

July 4th always makes me think about what America means to me. Growing up, it was my unrivaled promise land. I spent two months here every summer free from school, going to camp and hanging out with grandparents and relatives who spoiled me. Returning to Japan at the end of summer meant going back to classrooms and homework and real life. Under those conditions, who wouldn’t love America?

In Kenya, I got to learn about what America meant to Africans. When I chose to tell the short version of my story, simply saying I was American, people responded in one of two ways. Like clockwork, wealthier Kenyans would respond by saying I should find a nice girl, marry her and stay forever. Others (generally poorer) were more perplexed at my living in Kenya, asking why I would leave the place they could only dream about living in to come to Kenya. Why would I give that up for this? I often wondered the same thing, especially when the power went out for 24 hours or someone showed up 2 hours late to a meeting. Yet I thought the response was revealing. Africa is a really nice place if you have money. Like the European masses, it’s only the poor that dream about building a better life in a new world. Though it has its flaws, America has remained the symbol of opportunity and a better life for people across the world. Other countries are achieving the same level of prosperity, but haven’t attained America’s unique status as a symbol of hope.

This brings me to what America means to me. I actually enjoy hearing the blanket statement “America is the best country in the world” because I don’t think it makes much sense. First, I think about how subjective that statement is: it really depends on who you ask. Second, I wonder how you can judge the best country in the world without having visited them all. There are some pretty cool places out there. Finally, I think, “The best country for what?” For food? Again, subjective but I’d go with Thailand. Highest standard of living? Norway. Most hot dog eating contest wins? America.

What a place means to you is totally personal. Do I think America is the best country in the world across all factors we could ever study? I don’t know, it’s possible. I’m not sure why we need to label it the best in the world though. I love certain aspects of this country, like its natural beauty, freedom, opportunities, people. I love certain things about other places too though and that doesn’t need to take away from the fact that I love this country. Like anywhere else, there’s good and bad and it’s full of broken people who ultimately need God. That’s my perspective on America this July 4th. Happy Birthday 🙂

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