(The Ammergasse, an alley in the center of Tübingen with a small stream, the Ammer, flowing along one side. As kids, my sisters and I played Poohsticks on these bridges and all along the Ammer through the medieval city center.)
I recently returned to the town where my parents met, where I was born, and where I spent two years in school, the fourth grade in elementary school and the ninth grade in gymnasium. It was my first trip back to Germany in almost four years.
As a kid, I used to say that this town, Tübingen, was where I felt at home, but the town I spent more of my childhood, Salem, Oregon, was where my friends were. I had very few friends in Tübingen, but Salem as a city just didn’t hold my fancy. I wanted to go as far away as I could once I graduated high school. And that’s exactly what I did, going to the East coast for college and then moving to Japan after graduating there.
You might wonder why I didn’t go to Tübingen or at the very least study German language and literature like my sisters did. The answer to that is a bit more complex and would lead me far away from the question at hand, but simply put, I realized the world was larger than western Europe and North America, and I wanted to see something different. Or at least, that’s how I explained it to myself at the time. . .
So, I studied Japanese and came to Japan, first to Kyoto and then to Yokohama and Tokyo. And I’ve lived more years in Japan now than I ever lived in Germany, but that doesn’t make me Japanese. . . Those kinds of judgments make me smile. Due to my fascination with the cultural arts in Japan and particularly when I’ve worn kimono, Japanese have told me I’m more Japanese than they are. No, I’m not Japanese, although I find that compliment flattering.
Would a Japanese person want to learn their own culture from the inside out in the same way I did, by taking lessons in tea ceremony, kimono, calligraphy, and noh performance, and even then, still not satisfied, by going to university in that country to acquire a historical perspective of the cutlure? But more importantly, is being Japanese (or fully integrated, which is pretty much the same thing in this case) necessary to feel at home in Japan? I don’t think so.
So, why have I stayed in Japan so long, for most of my twenties? I can’t dispute the fact that personal relationships have played roles at certain times, but when they ended, I remained here. A certain drive to be able to show something for my struggles here was also a factor, but that’s not all. This place slowly became familiar to me, perhaps it grew to be a cultural home to compliment my other homes in the US and Germany. But these kinds of designations become clearest to me when I leave to go somewhere else. When I’m in Japan, I still feel somehow unsettled. I guess I’m not quite at home here yet, although I love this place.
Dilek Zaptcioglu, a Turkish author of German upbringing, said in a radio interview once that her friends of multiple nationalities ask each other, “Have you found your third country yet?” They go to Turkey or to Latin America in search of a third country, a country to call home. But in the end home is probably not a country, a culture, or a community, although these might have something to do with it. Instead, it is perhaps a deep feeling of contentment in the place one finds oneself or maybe it’s a feeling that one doesn’t have to fight for one’s own space.
Not that I know. I still haven’t found my home yet! Haha!
The adventure continues. . .