The Words of the Okada Family

To Have A Dream

Brenda Okada
June 27, 2000

About a month ago Chiaki asked if I would write a testimony for "Nisei Jidai" newsletter. With the focus being on second generation education I was deeply challenged because I so often fail to meet even my own expectations of how I should raise our children. Also as our children are on the cusp of reaching their teenage years I feel I can say nothing since the fruit of my labor can not yet be judged. After much soul searching and pressed by an overdue deadline this is what I finally sent. I myself am a little surprised by the focus. To tell the truth I have never given much thought to the significance of my Chinese connection. I hope that this can touch the heart of those who read it. Since it will be translated into Japanese I post it here so that you too may read it.

When I was nine years old I remember my mother taking me to visit one of her aunts. Sitting in a rocking chair on the big open veranda was her husband, a thin wisp of a man with a very distinctive goatee consisting of a few long gray hairs. He was meditatively smoking a pipe. I was mystified by this exotic man, but I didn't speak to him nor did I ever see him again. He was Chinese. Never did I imagine that I would grow up to have something in common with him. He being oriental, marrying an occidental woman and raising their children in an occidental society. For me of course the situation is opposite, nevertheless maybe we have faced many similar situations and challenges. I look forward to meeting him in the next world.

At our couples matching in October, 1982, while I was standing in line as a volunteer requesting to be matched to an oriental brother, I wondered for the first time what would I do if this eternal relationship had to start off with the aide of a dictionary. I could not believe that for the previous three years while I had considered and felt that even God favored this for me, the thought of not being able to communicate from the start in English had never occurred to me. I was dumbfounded but had little time to dwell on this thought as Father approached, asked my age, and before I knew it I was walking out of the hall with a brother who abruptly stopped and said to me in perfect English, "I forgot my shoes. Can you wait for me here while I go to get them". Again I was overwhelmed at how God could be so kind to such a stupid girl.

Really I am an incurable romantic. So for the seven years that I stayed in America after our blessing until I came to Japan I really did nothing special to prepare for my life in the Orient. Frankly speaking I dreamt of a life of bliss together with my true love having babies and by the power of our love for one another magically turning this old world into God's longed for Kingdom of Heaven. This is the dream which sustained me during seven lonely years squashed into a van with only a sleeping bag to call home.

Of course I had worked together with many Japanese brothers and sisters in America. I had also read a few famous Japanese novels and Ruth Benedict's questionable "Chrysanthemum and the Sword". But I truly had no idea of what the reality of my life would be. Even Father's words relating to the trials and loneliness faced by international couples couldn't awaken me to the reality. 'Not me', I arrogantly thought. I love my husband, he is such a good man. I love Japanese food, it is so delicious and so healthy. A tiny rabbit hutch for a home? It is a palace compared to a room shared with 10 sisters, or a van shared with 8 brothers and sisters.

Well that is all very well until children are born. Suddenly a rabbit hutch is exactly that, a rabbit hutch. A husband that comes home only to sleep whether he is working hard for God or not doesn't fit the imagination's ideal of a true dad. In spite of all of our differences of concept and practice though we could give birth to four beautiful children. And just as Father has constantly told us, our children are our third messiah. Everyday they give us the opportunity to grow our hearts and challenge our fallen nature and bad habits.

Today's society is so full of images and objects designed to attract our attention and especially, here in Japan with its declining birthrate, the attention of children. This makes for a very difficult environment to raise children in a wholesome way, add on to that trying to raise blessed children with a focus on invisible values. On top of that being a foreign mother with an inadequate understanding of the system. Truly I have had to learn as I go. Talk about on the job training. I guess it is true for all mothers; we learn through our first child.

I was horrified when I first heard the expression 'half' to describe children who had only one Japanese parent. As if the other parent accounted for nothing. Our family prefers the expression 'double'. Our children now 10, 9 and 8 were quite confused on this point about one year ago. Of course they have often been called gaijin by their classmates, to which I've always advised them that they are not gaijin, they are Japanese because their father is Japanese and they were born in Japan, they are also Australian because their mother is Australian, indeed that they are Sekaijin because they can inherit the world, they are Tenkokujin because they came from Heavenly Father. But they insisted that they had to have a country and anyway why were they asked by their friends if they are half. So my husband and I explained the concept of half but felt that they should be called double, to which they totally agreed.

Soon after this conversation the children and I were on a train going to watch a Little Angels performance. At one station an elderly man got on the train, our first son stood up to let him sit down. The elderly gentleman was so grateful and effusively thanked him then began to comment to a woman sitting next to him how foreign mothers raise their children to respect the aged, that Japanese children do not so readily stand to offer an adult a seat on public transport. Then to his surprise Alexander began to speak to him in Japanese. He responded, "Are you half?", to which our three children chorused, "No, we are double." Of course he didn't understand what they meant, but was inspired and amused to hear our explanation.

He then began to speak about the war, assuming that I was American. Alexander, always happy to be center stage, gave a brief synopsis of the events which transpired between Japan and America during the 2nd World War. Even I was so surprised to hear my own 9 year old son relate so plainly and clearly the reasons why Japan and America had become enemies. He had never spoken to me or my husband about it but in 3rd grade Kokugo had studied a story, "Chichan no Kagi Okuri" which tells the story of a family's experience during war. His teacher must have explained something of WWII at that time. Our old gentleman went on to say that he had participated in the war and done many bad things, killing many people even though it had not been his desire to kill anything or anyone.

It was time to get off the train, but he praised our children, telling them that they are surely the hope of the future and extolling them to become Sekaijin, to become a bridge between East and West never to make war again. It was as if we had encountered an angel. The conversation had halted all other conversation in the carriage. All eyes and ears had been focused on us. I was so proud of our children and so happy to have received recognition for the effort I make everyday to point our children in the right direction. I honestly feel that I am fighting a war everyday with an invisible but very tangible enemy.

When I was a child my grandfather often told us of his gratitude towards America, in defeating Japan. "Without America we would be speaking Japanese now. Thank God for America." This was his mantra. Well Australians are speaking Japanese in record numbers now. Japanese is even taught in many elementary schools. But we are speaking Japanese not because we were conquered with bullets, if you want to be cynical you could say we were conquered by the power of the yen. Nevertheless mutual understanding and respect has surely grown where once there had been hatred and resentment. At least on the part of many Australians.

Our children love Australia so very much. They have a totally different life style when they go there compared with their daily life here in Japan. The relationships between the members of my family are so warm and affectionate compared with the more formal type of relationship that my husbands family has. But the children are comfortable with both. When they are in Australia, they miss things that are Japanese.

My parents recently visited Japan for the first time. In preparing to welcome them here the children made a list of 'only in Japan' experiences that we had to give them. For example; onsen, kaiten sushi. My parents we so moved by such a heart that they could open their hearts completely. As a consequence they enjoyed their stay here so very much.

Our children have also proven to be the bridge between our parents and ourselves. To witness the love our children have towards my father and see them interact and play together I can truly resolve the resentment I had harbored toward him. They are also the bridge on which my husband and I have overcome many differences and deepened our love. So whether they want to be or not, they can't do anything to change their destiny, they are a bridge by the very virtue of their existence.

Almost 40 years ago I had my first encounter with the Orient. I dreamed of one day being able to uncode the magic of Chinese characters, of being able to see if mountains were indeed rocky outreaches with tiny old men like my great-uncle sitting in their midst in a rowing boat beneath a temple. I dreamed of becoming a peace-maker. Heavenly Father was listening all the time.

Now of course I dream that our children can dream a big dream, a great dream which Heavenly Father can listen to and guide them to fulfill. My husband and I want to give them every opportunity we can to help them discover the special talent that each one has and can use to bring joy and celebration to the world. We thank our True Parents for showing that it is worthwhile having a big dream.

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