Well, to revel his love for the Japanese people, my grandmother, influenced by the American-front Anti-Japanese propaganda of the time, loathed the Japanese and everything to do with them.
The topic I'm writing about in this blog post absolutely changed my life and my life's purpose forever. I was able to experience something more beautiful than any painting could ever portray -- I was able to witness a bias and prejudice of more than 50 years melt away through the love of a child. Let me tell you how it happened.
As my love for the Japanese people and culture grew and grew, most of my family didn't understand. Especially my grandmother - who, understandably, was abandoned by her husband to go fight the Japanese and had to raise children and run a business back home in the States. Passionate about my life mission at the time, however, I wasn't going to be stopped by a biased bred from a lack of understanding.
I became aware of an exchange program through 4-H. For those of you who are unaware, 4-H is an organization popular with youth in the mid-west. I had been actively a part of 4-H prior to my interest in Japan, but was never aware of this portion of it. 4-H, as it would seem, had a sister-organization called Labo (ラボ) in Japan and together they would send teenagers to stay with host-families in both countries as an exchange.
I was 13 years old at the time, and my mother was still getting used to the idea that I was seriously interested in Japan and going there someday. Although I severely wanted to go to Japan through this program, I needed to slow down for my mother's sanity. Instead, we decided that we would host an exchange student in our household for 1 month during the summer months.
Before our exchange student came, we received a paper that described her - her name, her likes, dislikes, hobbies, and a photograph of her. We were so excited! We transformed one of our rooms in our house into an extra bedroom, and we prepared an exciting itinerary for her stay in Northern Michigan.
When she first arrived at her house, she collapsed for what seemed like the whole day, entirely jet-lagged. We were so excited to see who it was that came to our house from the other side of the world - a place I was dying to go to and could only read about in books and the internet.
Well, when she came around, she certainly had a strong personality that took us all by surprise. Actually, thinking back on it, Mie (mee-ay) was not like typical Japanese people. Typically, Japanese people are shy and reserved. Mie was open about her feelings and excited to try everything new. One thing, though, that sticks out in my memory, is that she brought her Japanese mayo with her and she put it on practically everything! Even spaghetti!
My brothers just loved her! She taught them Japanese and we taught her English... She and my brother David would go back and forth all the time saying, "バカ" (baka) to each other nonstop.
In her trip to Michigan, we took her camping in the north where we taught her our custom of cooking outside and playing card games by the campfire and swimming. One of the greatest things was that she taught us a card game called "大ふご" (Dai-fugo) that we would play for hours. Of course, she always kicked our butts!
We also went to Mackinac Island and Sleeping Bear Sand Dunes. We had a lot of fun that summer.
Mie had a particularly interesting past-time... She was a member of her local Kendo club in Matsuyama, Japan where she was from! Kendo is a traditional art of Japanese fencing. Kendo is what the Japanese samurai practiced, We were at my grandmother's house when she took out the traditional Kendo uniform, took her bamboo Kendo sword, and performed some amazing Kendo moves.
My grandmother had never seen such a thing before. It was amazing. Mie and my grandmother talked a lot, and when at first my grandmother was skeptical of Mie staying with us - as they talked over dinner, I saw my grandmother's eyes melt.
Mie's personality was a little fiery, and my grandmother adored that about her. Even to this day, years and years later, my grandmother will speak fondly of our month with Mie.
To witness that radical change in my grandmother, I realized that prejudice and bias stems only from the lack of understanding. We naturally assume things that we don't know. My grandmother assumed that Japanese people were "bad" simply because she didn't know otherwise - she had no experience to replace that assumption with.
It was then that I decided that I had a life mission. Through understanding, one person at a time, I would seek that moment when the eyes melt and the prejudice falls away. That way, just slowly I could be an active advocate for world peace. We are all human on this planet, and we are all connected in some fashion. It just makes sense to me that if you honestly know something, you truly understand it, then you can't fear it. You can't hate it. If we can understand each other, the hate will disappear.
Anyway, that mission still exists for me.
But, when Mie left to go back home, and even though we shared our cultures, and we had loads of fun, I still didn't have the chance to go to Japan! I still craved that experience, and I wasn't going to give up that easily.