Tuesday, November 10, 2015

49 years ago today....

49 years ago today, one of my most formative events occurred. My family arrived in Tokyo, Japan. What was supposed to be a 2-3 year assignment for my dad, stretched to 5 years in Tokyo plus one additional year in Seoul,Korea. When my father asked told my mom about the job in Japan and asked if she was willing to move, her response was, “when do I start packing?"

I was 6 years old at the time while my mom was 42 years old and never lived any where except Pittsburgh. The farthest she had flown was New Orleans.
Our inaugural trip to Japan(we came back to the States each summer), was a vacation itself. We stopped in Disneyland, which in 1966 had only been opened for about 10 years.
I remember loving “It's a Small World”… My mom and I must have gone through it half a dozen times. Was she trying to reinforce that we were about to begin our own “small world” experience by moving to Asia? On the way over the Pacific, we stopped in Honolulu and fell in love with Hawaii,so much so that we stopped there in both directions on our summer trips home (12 times by the time I was 12). I've made it back to Hawaii 3 times in my adult life, and each of those times, when we landed, and I smelled the unique floral laden air of Hawaii, I experienced an incredible feeling of nostalgia.

And then finally, we landed in Tokyo. In 1966, Tokyo had a population of over 8 million. Oakmont, the town we came from, had less than 8 thousand. We were tall Americans in a sea of Japanese. My brother, being 6'2", stood out so much, we would use him as a meeting point in the department stores. (“Everyone meet at Bill in an hour”). We were used to hopping in our car, or walking to school on tree lined brick streets.

Now we learned to navigate subways, direct taxi drivers that spoke no English and explore an urban jungle of concrete overpasses, constant traffic and a mass of humanity. My mom was always a great cook but now our palates exploded as we tried our first Chinese, Indian, Russian and Jewish food. It took traveling thousands of miles for us to sample our first bagel! We went from living in a brick house with a big front porch surrounded by trees to living first in a hotel for 3 months (I highly recommend this), and then 5 years of apartment living with massive windows looking out on an bursting cityscape with serene Mt. Fuji in the distance.
Our quiet weekends morphed to explorations of Japan, hopping on trains to see the wonders of Nikko shrine, the massive Buddha in Kamakura and Yokohama's harbor.

The holidays with extended family became celebrations with our new “extended” family, friends who shared the same experience in Japan, and introduced us to traditions they brought with them from home such as dirty rice from Louisiana.
When I stepped off that plane 49 years ago, I didn't realize how much my world was going to explode with experiences that would shape my life and even my kids life: my addiction to travel, my love of cities, my food fanaticism and my conviction that home is not a structure, it is where you gather with the ones you hold close, both family and friends.

Thank you, Dad & Mom, for taking us on that fantastic adventure that started today, 49 years ago today!


  1. I was there less than a year but it also changed my life perspectives... Remember you were 6 and took me to breakfast at Okura coffee shop... Then the Green Room assigned a waiter to pour water for for the two of us... Great memories ! Love RD

  2. I love reading these musings and the pictures are wonderful! Your parents must have been very special people!

  3. The experience transformed how I looked at the world and life.