The third week of vacation, my cousin Sarah and I set off for Hokkaido (the northern island) on a ferry. Her parents live in Sapporo, where her dad teaches at a university and her mom works as an artist and translator. The ferry was full of men from the Japanese military, and there weren’t any girls besides the two of us. We sailed right past the portion of the country that would later experience a nuclear disaster.
Sapporo is famous for its annual snow sculpture festival, but I was there in the gloriously warm mid-summer. The gardens were in full blossom, a stunning display of color. I spent a lot of time jogging and exploring while everyone else went to work, and my uncle took us hiking on the weekend. We drove to a church service in Iwanai, where my grandpa was still working as a missionary. Iwanai would be the last stop on his grand lifetime tour of Japan, before permanently returning to the States to retire.
I really hadn’t seen any white people in Japan besides my relatives. My mom had always talked about how she didn’t fit in, but it never fully sunk in until I felt it: the stares, the whispering, having your photo taken by people on the street. Not that anyone was rude or mean, but I could see how it would get old after 18 years. In Hokkaido, everyone assumed we were Russians. A couple weeks prior, police officers had shown up at my aunt’s door to check if my cousin Asher was a Russian spy. The family had a good sense of humor about it, so I got them to pose for this silly “spy” photo.
A couple days in Sapporo and I was feeling right at home. I could speak English with the family there, which meant I could tell jokes or participate in discussions. You never realize how amazing language can be until it gets taken away from you. Just as I was settling in, my aunt announced that she was sending me to work on a dairy farm.