As I was writing my final paper for class I decided to take a short break to read the latest letter from home. It was from my mother, informing me: "The day that you come back from Japan, there is a memorial service for your great uncle Tomo, and I hope you are up to going." My initial response was "Of course." I then wondered, would the average American go to the service of a relative they saw maybe once a year after a plane ride of 12 hours? Probably not, but for me there is no question about it. It is the same feeling which compels okaasan to work so hard, or compels Japanese to offer food at the butsudan (Buddhist altar).
This semester I thought I was merely learning about things in Japan that were not present in my American life. But when reading about ideas like uchi/soto, tatemae/ honne, etc. I began to realize that this is the way I sometimes think. I wasn't aware of this at all before, because these are things I learned from my parents, which they learned from theirs; except that when I was growing up, they were unspoken rules without names. My approach to the class was wrong from the start, and it affected my learning. I treated class topics as things completely separate from my life. Until now I never connected up my American (or Japanese-American) life with things in Japan, and I failed to realize that there could be similarities in my Japanese-American family in L.A., with Japanese families in Japan. But I now see how the memorial service for my great uncle Tomo relates my family in L.A. to their ancestors. That's still important enough to my mother (and to me) that I will attend as a family member, even if I'm jet-lagged, and even though I'm now the third generation from my great uncle.