The Japanese really know how to celebrate a new year. In addition to the traditions of going to the shrine, eating soba, and pounding rice, there’s Shishi-Mai, or the Lion Dance. The Lion dances around to the beat of drums and the tune of flutes. As it dances, people can put money in its mouth for good luck. Because most Shishi-mae troupes originate from a shrine, all money goes to support the shrine. The Japanese lion consists of a wooden, lacquered head called a “shishi-gashira” (Lion Head), and a characteristic body of green dyed cloth with white designs. One family at my daughter’s school sponsored a shishi-mai demonstration at the International School the children attend. It was quite a treat to watch.
This first week back in Tokyo, beyond unpacking, organizing, shopping and cooking, I have been consumed with the idea of where I fit in. Living this way – as an expat – is sometimes an existence that defies explanation to someone who hasn’t lived it themselves. Particularly here in Tokyo, where the expat population is so drastically separate from the local population, the idea of where I fit in gives me pause.
The children and I live 3/4 of our lives in Tokyo and 1/4 in the U.S. There’s no two ways about it – we have a divided life. It could easily lead to confusion and displacement if not tackled head-on. By tackled, I mean discussed and thought-through and examined. The kids and I are always discussing how lucky we are to have the lives that we do – where we have extended visits “home” but still come “home” to our real lives in Tokyo. The kids take it for granted as normal at this point. It’s just me who has issues.
I’ve been putting a lot of thought into where it is I belong now, and I’ve come to the conclusion that the answer is “everywhere.” My grandmother, who, even two and a half years after her death, is in my thoughts daily, used to say that the strongest human need is the need to belong. She was an educational psychologist and an amazing and interesting human. She used to gather her grandchildren together yearly so that we would have a strong sense of family, and therefore never feel alone. I am not alone in thinking that was her greatest gift to us.
For July and August, we belonged in the U.S. The summer was a magical time this year – we spent time with countless friends and family members. My sister/cousin Jenn and I got a weekend away together with our daughters. I had tons of lunches and dinners with Betsy and her delightful little ones. We had the privilege of spending a full week with Bonnie’s family and sending all four of our kids to camp together. I spent one-on-one time with my own mother, which I haven’t done in years. When I was at my mom’s house, I saw my grandmother nearly every day.
Then, I came back to Tokyo. I immediately had two close friends email me to discuss our plans for the Jewish holidays, which are coming up fast. I’ve set up a back-to-school breakfast with the “usual suspects” with whom I often hang out. I had afternoon tea today with a lovely woman who is the mom of one of Sydney’s friends, who I don’t know well, but am on the brink of getting to know better, and boy is she interesting!
For me, what links all of these experiences is the women with whom I share them. I’m so lucky to be a woman, I feel. Oh, yeah, at certain times of the month I’d like to throw it in the trash can, but I appreciate my ability to grown and change and laugh with my community of women. The best part about it is that these women exist in all walks of life. I have friends from various parts of my life, all of whom share that part of my life, no one part being more important than the other. Each woman offers me something different, but what they have in common is the ability to give of themselves – to allow me the privilege of sharing their lives with them as well. In this I find the true meaning of womanhood, a sisterhood of women. In realizing this, I understand that it is my women friends who give me the sense of belonging which I so crave and these women fulfill.
So today, on a random Friday afternoon, for no particular reason, I celebrate the women in my life. They help me learn; they allow me see the truth of situations; they lift me up when I am down; they provide support in times of trouble and laughter in times of joy.
I urge you to do the same. It’s an amazing feeling.