I put a big lime green roll of paper up on my wall last week and in the center, I tacked up a card that read “NARA”.
“Why is there a big green paper with the word Nara in the middle?”, the kids were quick to ask.
“Because,” I replied, “I am writing a book about Nara and this is my memory board. Basically, I write down a memory on a card and put it up and continue doing so until the paper is covered.”
“Oh,” said kid number 3, “I hope you have a lot of memories because that is a big piece of paper.”
I do, fortunately, have a lot of memories of Nara, our first home in Japan. I did worry at first that I did not have enough memories/material but once I sat down with the cards, it was amazing to discover all the minute recollections that have been stored in the dusty corners of my brain for years and years. Once I start writing them down, other ones surface until I worry that I will not have enough strength to extract all of them.
I am going to write a book about each place we have lived in Japan, starting with Nara. That means I am looking at five books at this point, as Gotou will get two books. It is possible that in the course of writing this project, we will get to add another title to the collection but right now, all I am concerned about is Nara.
In August, we have to travel to Kansai to visit the American consulate and submit applications for passport renewals. We have decided to stay in Nara for two nights during that time (plus another night in Nagoya). It will be the first time visiting Nara in years, the last time being when we left Japan in 2013. The kids are all so much older and now will have an appreciation for the historic value of the place. It is strange to think that for kid number 1, Todaiji and Kasuga were just part of his normal background, that Nara Park was just where he ran around, trampling on deer poop under the shadow of a pagoda. Our trip to Nara will be one of reflection for me and picture taking, as I will be illustrating the books and will be drawing and painting images as I go, another form of memory mining.
I am really happy to be doing this project, happy in the sense that I feel it is the right project for me to be working on. I have been struggling for years to get different story collections going, to find a way of writing authentically about characters, but I kept running into the wall of my in-betweeness. I have spent most of my adult life in Japan so writing about Americans and America was always too sentimental and juvenile and while I understand about seventy percent of what goes on in Japanese homes and private lives, that thirty percent of ignorance undermines everything known. So what I am left with is myself and my little in-between world.
I was concerned at first about violating the privacy of the kids by showcasing their childhoods in a book but they have given me their blessing. They want to read it themselves, to see what happened when they were too young to remember, or before they were even born. For them, this in-betweenness sometimes has social consequences as they are unlike their peers in both their bicultural/bilingualism and their nomadism. Having a book that illuminates our reasons for living as we do might, I believe, help them to understand their unusual upbringing as well as help them to feel that their experience is validated.
I have a long haul ahead of me but it is a journey I am undertaking with enthusiasm and determination. And it all begins with Nara, the ancient capital of Japan, where many things have begun.