“My grandfather bombed Pearl Harbor!”
There was a brief pause of silence, as I perceived the Japanese man standing in front of us in Kyoto, smiling from ear to ear as if he had just said, “Welcome to Japan, my friends!” As odd as it sounds, I could not help but smile. While most Americans in my position might have taken this as an insult, I felt curiously welcome.
I looked him square in the eyes. There was no vengeful intent in this man smiling before us. I looked to my right and my left to see what my friends were thinking. They seemed to have read the man the same way. While his skills at starting a conversation where lacking, his appreciation for American visitors was plain. He must have seen us, and having little knowledge on pop-culture to start an appropriate conversation, said the first or only thing that linked him to the U.S. His smile told no lie. He was genuinely happy to see us and speak with us. He excitedly told us about his grandfather, noticing that we where intently listening. Before we said goodbye, I shook his hand and said “I am glad that you are not you’re grandfather, and that I am not my grandfather. That way I can be here today, and we can be friends.” He may have not understood everything I said, but the message was clear —that hospitality forgives.
The first day in Japan was so incredible that, as I wrote in my journal the next day, “the rest of Japan could be awful, and that would be O.K.” In other words, my Japanese experience was an overwhelming blessing, but it wasn’t because of the things I did, ate or saw, but because of the wonderful people I met there.
I spent the first two days in a home-stay. My roommate and I where picked up by the sweetest woman, a mother of two boys we came to know as Mama Yuki. We spent the day touring Yokohama and the old city Kamakura. She went out of her way to make sure that we where enjoying ourselves. She would gave so generously, and (being polite) we would return with tons of “thank yous” and “this is so good!” which she would respond to with even more blessings. It seems there was no end to her kindness.
In the next couple days, while visiting Tokyo and Kyoto, the people of Japan continued to enlighten me. Everyday, I was astounded at how hospitable people where. It seems everything the Japanese said and did carried with it a great deal of value. They spoke no empty words and they gave whole-heartedly. I have never been so aware of eye contact in my life as when I conversed there. When ever something is exchanged, it is done with a bow, even with something as trivial as a paper napkin.
I fell in love with the country by falling in love with it’s people. Yuki and her family welcomed me into their home as if I was an old friend. Despite the history we share with Japan, there thrives a love for people that overcomes transgressions.