03.06.2014 - 03.06.2014
One of the questions I'm frequently asked is whether I have family still living in Japan. Unfortunately, on my mom's side, I don't think anyone knows. On my dad's side, however, the picture is a bit clearer. Dad and many of his siblings were sent to Japan when they were children to get a Japanese education. They lived with family members or family friends on a small island off the coast of Onomichi in Hiroshima Prefecture. So, unlike on my mom's side, the second generation (my dad and his siblings) knew the Japanese side of the family. Some of the siblings had maintained contact over the years. In fact, in the early 1980's, dad, my stepmom, and I had even visited the family in Innoshima. But it was so long ago, I had very little memory of it.
Those who are left in my dad's family in America had not heard anything from the Japanese relatives in recent years. One of my Seattle cousins had a partial address of the second generation's first cousin, but nothing else. No one knew how to get to the house, assuming that the cousin and his wife were still in it.
So armed with the partial address and the name of dad's cousin and his wife, Dick and I took a trip to Innoshima. Since time was tight, we took a bus (the last time I was there, there was no bridge connecting Innoshima with the mainland--we had to take a ferry).
We knew what portion of the island the cousin, Hiraki san, lived in--Habu, a port on the south side of the island. It just so happened that the bus's last stop was Habu port, so we got off there. Okano is a very common name in that area; this dentist was no relation to me, but it was fun just to see a business sign with our family name.
My Seattle cousin had suggested that we check at the post office to see if anyone there knew Hiraki san. New friends we had met in Onomichi had recommended going to the town hall, where a registry is kept of all families on the island. We had no idea where either of these facilities was. So we walked into a nearby tourist information office, intending to find out.
None of the employees there spoke English. I'm at slightly more than a beginner's level of Japanese, so in my very elementary Japanese, I explained that I was from America and was looking for my dad's relative in Innoshima. I gave them the name and the partial address.
One lady stopped what she was doing and looked up the cousin in the phone book (you might be wondering why I didn't do that, but it's because I can't read kanji). Then she took the partial address and the phone number and found the location of the house in a map of the town that apparently records who lives in each house. After that, she called the phone number. I'm sure whoever was on the other end was not prepared for this phone call at all! I could hear the tourist agency lady explain twice that Okano Masaru's daughter had come to visit.
Finally, she volunteered to walk us to the house! Turns out it was very close to the tourist information office, up a hill. We were part way up the hill when we met Hiraki san coming towards us to meet us! In only about 35 minutes after we'd gotten off the bus, we found ourselves in my dad's cousin's house!
Neither Hiraki san nor his wife speak English, but we had brought a lot of photos of the extended family on Dick's tablet, so we were able to have a nice time looking at those. Here's one of Hiraki san and me holding up a photo of his mother, my paternal grandmother's sister!
We had come to Innoshima not knowing whether we could find my relatives or whether they'd even be alive. To find them at all, let alone apparently doing well, was incredibly rewarding!