Dear Japan. A Letter to My Home

“I Shine Brighter Now” Photography by Reylia Slaby

Dear Japan,

First, I want to say that I love you. You were the country where I took my first breath. My lungs filled with your air, and from there I was home. My first tears happened in your hospitals. My cries echoed throughout the hallway and took me throughout my childhood, becoming laughter, then to tears and back again.

You were the only home I knew.

I grabbed at floating cherry blossom petals from three years old until now. I danced in the summer with hanabi, the sparks singed my fingertips and wrists, but we gleefully let them burn. We did rajiotaiso at swimming pools. In the fall my sisters and I played in the fallen momiji, in a sea of red leaves. When winter came along we huddled together in front of the gas stove, our feet burned and our faces cold.

I love you, my country, my nippon. You made me who I am.

I love you in both sunshine and disasters. I scrambled under the table with my family in the Kobe earthquake of 1995. I stayed inside for your raging typhoons and your overpowering heat. But I swam in rivers and lakes of perfect water, hiked through mountains where the Gods live. Read Siddhartha in the middle of my quiet forest in my hometown.

But Japan, you see, you are my home, but you do not want me.

When I was a child, I told a crowd of people that I was from Japan. Everyone laughed hysterically, because I do not look Japanese. The laughter trailed through years all the way to adulthood. I found it echoing wherever I went, pulsing through meetings with friends, to schools, to bars as an adult. It echoed again yesterday when I said I was born in your cities. The man standing behind me in line at a restaurant who asked me where I was from laughed at me. “Americans are hilarious.” He said. The child in me wonders what I said wrong.

I trailed to my working life as well. “We think our clients would prefer having someone Japanese” I was told several times in job interviews when I was younger.

You see, I may not look or sound exactly how most Japanese do. My parents aren’t from here. No Japanese blood runs through my veins.

I want you to know Japan, it does indeed hurt to love you. I wince when I explain my background and someone asks if that is “An American Joke”. No sir, it isn’t.

Having old men stare at me on the train because I was blonde, from the ages 6 to now, then go back to reading their porn magazines right next to me isn’t a joke.

It isn’t a joke when I’m followed home at night, with drunken people from my town jeering. “Hey American girl, how much are you?”

I didn’t understand when I was a child why I was stared at. Why people silently take photos of me without thinking I see them. I am here. I exist. I see you.

It is painful to argue with people, when they tell me and list off the reasons why I’m not from Japan. Where they tell me where I belong. Asking me if I “understand”, with each conversation.

Or even the simplest questions I get often. Do you like Japan? Yes sir. Can you eat natto? Yes sir. Can you use chopsticks? Yes sir.

It hurt the most when someone knew my story. They knew where I was born. Then said my art was interesting, saying it was fascinating to see Japan from a foreigner’s perspective. Sir, I’ve breathed in Japan just as much as your daughter has. We are the same age. I’ve only ever lived here.

As an adult, it makes me frustrated that I never had Japanese citizenship, despite being born and raised here. I care about this country as much as anyone does, maybe sometimes more, because I have to fight to make people believe that this is my home. I have to fight to convince people.

Dear Japan, I hope you can love me one day, as much as I love you. This is unrequited, I know. I can feel it in my bones. I do not know if I can make you want me, with my third culture mind and soul. I am not exactly like all of you. But perhaps, one day, despite it all, you can open your arms to me. And I can finally be your daughter.

Reylia Slaby is a Fine Art photographer, writing about her love for creating, and how others can use art in their lives reyliaslaby.com | Insta @reylia.slaby

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