A Girl Says “Goodbye Japan, Hello United States”

Story and photo by Hikari Kawai

Is this real? Is this really happening? What about my friends? What about obachan (grandma) and ojiichan (grandpa)?

Questions flooded my 7-year-old brain after my parents told my sister and I that we were going to be moving to the U.S. after we finished school back in April of 2007.

Honestly, I can’t quite recall how my parents told us. I just remember getting that sinking feeling all dropping down in my tummy, bracing for whatever they had to talk to us about.

We were moving partially due to the fact that my mother had been in a bad bicycle accident in 2006 where she tore her meniscus and sustained other injuries. While recovering, she still managed to be the sole provider for our family. I remember her going to work in her wheelchair and crutches. Eventually, she could tentatively walk on her own again.

My dad, as much as he tried to apply and find jobs, it proved to be a seemingly endless venture. My parents were worried about the future they could provide for us. My mom still needed to recover from the accident. So it was time to make the move.

The news of our move spread fast at school, because my mom worked at my school as an English teacher at Shirayuri Gakuen, an all-girls, Catholic, private school.

Classmates bombarded me with questions, politely saying they would miss me.

I took the initial news quite well. It didn’t feel real. It was a bit of an exciting thought at one point for me. I thought to myself, it’ll be an adventure and someplace new! However, my older 14-year-old sister did not take this news lightly at all. Understandably so.

Japanese was the language I grew up speaking. The only time I spoke English was to my mom and in English class. But it was easy switching between the two languages as my mother is an Oregonian and my father Japanese. They introduced to me both languages while I grew up, making it easy to switch from one language to another.

Making such a big move to the U.S. would have proven much more difficult had I not been immersed in two languages, two cultures, and having had a small idea of what the U.S was like from visiting my mother’s family in the summer.

Ever so slowly, we packed, saying goodbyes, telling people and having to hear the same stuff over and over again. My classmates chattered about either how they would miss me, but mostly, how lucky I was to be going to the U.S. I just nodded in agreement. Feeling inside a mix of excitement and dread.

My classmates gave me little written letters saying their goodbyes.

I still have them. My first-grade teacher put them all in a rectangular red box with banana print. I sometimes go back and read them, remembering my days in Japan. My first home.

Bittersweet, I think, is the word I’m looking for when I read those letters, because every time I bump into them, cleaning my room or what not, I read them more and more slowly and understand less of what was being said at the time.

I hoped that I would be missed. I hoped my friends would stay my friends. I hoped that I could hold onto the Japanese language well enough that when I went back, I could still chat with them like before.

Sometimes when my classmates, friends, family or neighbors said something along the lines of a heartfelt goodbye, I fought to snuff out the feelings that welled up in my throat and eyes.

The day we were leaving Morioka, we took a taxi to get to the train station. As the taxi left our home, I looked back, taking in every moment I could. We headed into the heart of the city, buildings and people blurred past the window as I stared.

I recall bumbling along with my mom, dad, and sister, carrying my backpack and rolling a small suitcase behind me.

At the train station, as we made our way to the platform, we had to get onto an escalator, which slowly took us to the platform. My eyes widened in surprise.

Me and my sister’s classmates and teachers and a few other friends had come onto the platform before we had gotten there, to say a final goodbye.

Tears. I fought to keep them inside. The large knot in my throat rose, threatening my composure.

We stepped reluctantly from the platform onto the train as announcements for the final boarding call for the airport came on over the speakers, and warning that the doors would be closing.

I stood watching but I was too short when the doors closed. My dad tried to lift me up to see and wave goodbye but after a quick moment, he put me down.

I ran over to the large window, frantically waving goodbye. I couldn’t fight it any more — tears started streaming down my face.

It felt as if I was leaving a part of myself behind.

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