Home, at Last

For 23 years, Suzanne Kamata lived in Japan—all the while feeling as if she didn’t truly belong. But the tragic events of March 11 (and the difficult weeks that followed) permanently changed her perspective.

Photo by James Whitlow Delano

Last November, I was on edge, worrying that my family might have to flee Japan at a moment’s notice. Tensions were brewing between nearby North and South Korea. My husband, Yoshi, was sure that there would be a war, and the ominous newspaper headlines seemed to confirm his suspicions. Adding to my distress was the fact that the passports for our 11-year-old twins had expired.

“What if we have to escape?” I asked Yoshi. “We need to be fully prepared.”

Yoshi dismissed my concerns. “There’s no rush,” he said, mentioning the copious paperwork we would need to complete and the lengthy trip to the consulate in Osaka, which is 2½ hours away from our home in Aizumi, in the Tokushima Prefecture.

I didn’t care about the inconvenience; I just wanted to know we could leave if we needed to. That thought has always been in the back of my head—perhaps the logical by-product of being an expatriate. More than two decades ago, I moved from South Carolina to Japan, supposedly to teach English for one year.

Yoshi couldn’t be more different from me. He has lived in Tokushima almost all his life, leaving it only to attend college. He is deeply rooted: We live with our son and daughter in a house built and formerly inhabited by his parents. As the eldest—and only—son, my husband is the designated heir. His father’s bones are interred in a cemetery a short walk from the house, and it’s largely our responsibility to tend the grave. The last thing he would ever fantasize about is running away.

I, on the other hand, have dreamed about whisking my family off to multicultural Hawaii, where no one would tease my biracial kids about being “half,” or to Scandinavia, where I wouldn’t be the only blond in the neighborhood. If there was even a small risk of something bad happening, I’ve wondered, why bother hanging around?