Friday, August 29, 2014

Deciding What Matters

Making It Home


My recent decision to move my family back to Japan has been met with tons of positive support and good wishes. For this, my wife and I are extremely grateful. The decision at the time was not an easy one.

There have also been those who, albeit with the best of intentions, have questioned the wisdom of our return, particularly with three young children. I don’t resent the questions; I’m not offended by the concerns, necessarily based on information that is debatable. We don’t know ourselves just what the present situation is, what needs to be done or what the future holds. No one does. Even the so-called experts disagree.

We saw in Fukushima the radiation meters – microsieverts per hour, displayed digitally on machines posted in parks, on school grounds and throughout the center of town. We read updates in the newspaper, day after day. We stared at the spectrum of opinion offered up in cyberspace, mostly from people thousands of miles removed from the reality those they are supposedly educating are living with every day.

Amid all this, we saw the people of Fukushima going about the business of living.

This is, simply, what my wife and I have decided to do.


For the first time in our married life (not counting our 6-month European dream in 2007) we have decided, with no external demands, where to be. For her job as a teacher with the Fukushima Board of Education, through the uncertainty following the quake, for an opportunity that didn’t quite play out as we’d hoped, we’ve always deferred to circumstance in the esoteric yet very real matter of choosing who or what would steer our ship as we sailed an ocean with countless ports we might like to see.

We got knocked around a bit.

Now there is no one on deck but us.

It would be wrong to claim nothing influenced our decision to move here. But the determinants, the deciding factors, came from within. First and foremost, we wanted our kids to spend a few formative years in Japan. The practical path from a financial point of view would have been to go back to Fukushima where, after seven years of continuous maternity leave, my wife could go right back to work. We both have friends who never left town, certain (perhaps with a dash of hope mixed in) that there was never any measurable threat to their families’ well-being. According to some sources they are correct. Still, in our hearts my wife and I didn’t feel moving back to Fukushima City was the right decision for us.

So we find ourselves among the mountains of Nagano Prefecture – in the ‘belly button of Japan’ as some like to say. I lived here in Matsumoto once before, during a three-month teaching assignment with my first Japanese employer. I always told myself I wanted to return.

With a little bit of digging we found a house, on the eastern fringes of town, among picture-perfect rice fields, welcoming neighbors and the gently permeating aroma of the surrounding vineyards. I catch up with old friends, still around from eleven years ago, and see in them a sign that this is indeed a good place. My wife has made many new friends already. Some have themselves come from Fukushima.

I think of all the things I’d like to accomplish in the four years we plan to live here. Some are grounded in practical reality; others are entirely self-indulgent. Between these two extremes await the children we are here for, and the things that would mean most to them.

Within the constraints of time must we make our decisions.

In these times, ours is exactly what they will be.