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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A Sense of Place and Purpose

Fernweh (German) – Wanderlust, a craving to travel, being homesick for a place you’ve never been

I am what you would call a Third Culture Kid (TCK), someone who sort of belongs, but can never completely belong in either the country they grew up in or the country they are “from”. As a member of this tribe of misfits, my childhood consisted of getting to travel the world, being stared at, pretending to know who The Spice Girls were, and feigning excitement when someone wanted to hear the exotic white boy speak Japanese. As a kid, I really didn’t appreciate the value of living between two worlds enough.

As an adult, the symptoms of my incurable condition include compulsive travel, speaking 3.5 languages and having 4 different jobs at once because I don’t know what I want to do when I grow up. My stories usually start with “when I lived in Kenya” or “that time when I was studying abroad in Egypt” and end with something I probably shouldn’t have done but I’m glad I did anyway. Now I love the perspective I’ve gained from my experiences and wouldn’t trade them for anything.

However, I do often think about how nice it would be to have a place called home. I could easily answer the question, “where are you from?” without any caveats, explanations or long stories. I wouldn’t feel like the grass was greener somewhere else. I wouldn’t miss people on the other side of the world that I can’t spend time with for the forseeable future. I guess people always want what they can’t have though.

I just watched a Netflix documentary on Laura Dekker who at 16 became the youngest person to ever sail around the world alone. She has an interesting quote in the film when someone asks her where she is from. It goes something like this. Shopkeeper: “So you’re Dutch?” Laura: “Yeah… well no. I don’t really have a home. Home to me is Guppy” (her sailboat).

I think Guppy was home to her because it signified purpose, a goal, a plan: In her case sailing around the world. I’m finding that it doesn’t matter as much where I live; it’s more important to have a compelling reason to live. That is what provides contentment and joy and a fulfilling life. In Kenya, people would often ask me if I were homesick. I would say yes, but more for Japan than America. You can imagine their perplexed looks. While that was true, I also have to be intentional to live wherever I am. Because I have lived in other places, when things get tough my temptation is to imagine myself somewhere else. Somehow I always leave out the messy stuff. No place can solve people’s problems or magically make us happier, there is no place that will fulfill all your desires and dreams. Instead, building community and living purposefully make life worth living – wherever it is.

Those are just some of the things I’m working through and learning about myself right now. Feeling nostalgic, I posted some pictures of my family I have all over the world.

Great Friends all over the World

My Japanese family

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A Throwback from Kenya

Great Friends from College!

These people were my college family

My Crazy Life

The last couple of weeks have been crazy. For starters, I had 5 days of Japanese tour guide/translating jobs. The first was a 3-day tour with a group of older ladies in a travel club – basically they just travel all over the world with their friends. They had visited Costa Rica, Panama, Iceland, Southeast Asia, various places in the US and Europe, and were going to Antarctica in January! Rough life. The second was a group of 50 high-schoolers on a trip across Colorado. Coordinating 50 kids in Japanese through Garden of the Gods was an interesting experience. Nonetheless, I’m loving my job and feel reaffirmed in the fact that travel is something I want to do long-term.

I find it interesting that the things you are passionate about usually come to pass. In college, I wanted to learn more about Africa and social enterprise, so I wrote my senior thesis paper on whether we should provide food aid to The Democratic Republic of the Congo. That lead to me finding a job in Kenya and getting the real Africa experience (perhaps more than I bargained for). When I returned, I wanted to use my Japanese so I applied for a tour guiding job in Colorado. One thing lead to another, and I now work for two different companies, worked at a ski resort in Japan last Winter and have started my own travel business. I believe God cares about what we care about, and He wants us to serve Him as we live out our passions and interests. I’ve often been out of my comfort zone on this journey, but I’m learning that that’s not such a bad thing.

After the first tour guiding trip, I hopped on a plane to Texas. Meeting my dad at 10:30 PM, we drove 5 hours to Arkansas for my cousin’s wedding. The wedding was great, my cousin looked amazing and I got to meet her now husband for the first time. I had a great time hanging out with family, watching my littlest cousin dance, eating too much food and celebrating with Mary Rachel and Leith.

Hanging out with my Cousins

Hanging out with my cousins and siblings

Going to weddings does make you think about your own relationships though. I’m sure much of marriage is working through issues as they arise, but finding the right person from the start seems pretty important too. I want to find that person for myself, but also think there are seasons in life. Learning to experience joy in each season is more important than getting married, making more money, buying that house, or doing whatever you think will make you happier, because even though those things are great, in and of themselves they are empty. I am so happy for March Rachel, Leith and my brother Jon (who might be next) – I just haven’t found that person yet and I’m learning to be content in that.

After Arkansas, we drove to Texas where my dad’s side of the family lives. It was great seeing them as well, hanging out at the lake, wakeboarding and playing the inaugural game of volleyball in my Uncle’s pool. I’m realizing how unique and special it is to have great family on both sides who care and who want to spend time together.

Finally, after driving back from Texas to Colorado, my brother, his friend and I did a pickleball demonstration in Vail and went camping for the night; a great way to end a busy two weeks. The next month will be no less crazy, I have a couple of weeks of tour guiding, playing in a professional pickleball tournament and starting my tennis coaching job but I’m excited for it all.

Our Camping Spot

Our Camping Spot