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  • Writer's pictureDeborah Grow

Half Japanese: Part 1 The Big Move

Updated: Jan 29, 2020

Being half is hard whichever side of the ocean you end up on. September 30, 2001, we landed on the Japanese side of the Pacific at Narita: one overpacked American mom (who still never learned to pack light ) and 3 half-American and half-Japanese children. I do have to admit I had one giant suitcase filled with a huge pirate ship, a Winnie the Pooh house and favorite baby toys. "Just the essentials", Hidetoshi had said. So that is what I brought.

Saw these every day from my 14th street apartment in New York City
World Trade Towers NYC

The timing of our landing was also quite an event. As you know, just a few days prior on September 11th, there had been the terrorism horror in America. As I said in earlier posts, I lived in NYC for many years. My last residence, while I was single, was Stuyvesant Town on 14th Street, where I had a dramatic view of the World Trade Centers from my living room windows. I woke up and saw the Twin Towers and I looked on their lights each night before I slept.

Like many in my New York circle, Hidetoshi had his brush with danger regarding the terrorist attack. He had worked in the World Trade Center for several years. He worked for one of the big four trading companies in Japan. It was a 100-year-old company, quite stable we thought until it wasn't. It was Yamaichi Incorporated or as Mashu called it, "Mamaichi". But then again he also said thanks after his meals with "GochisoMAMAdeshita".

The New York offices of Yamaichi were on the 95th to 98th floors of World Trade Center #2. When this well-established company went bankrupt in 1997, due to paying the illegal piper, many people lost their jobs including my husband. At the time we thought it was very bad. Hidetoshi lost his job and we had 2 very young children. But as it turns out it is much like the story of the old Chinese farmer. Do you know it?

There was a farmer who had worked his crops for many years. One day his horse ran away. Upon hearing the news, his neighbors came to visit. “Such bad luck,” they said sympathetically. “Maybe so, maybe not,” the farmer replied.

The next morning the horse returned, bringing with it three other wild horses. “How wonderful,” the neighbors exclaimed. “Maybe so, maybe not,” replied the old man.

The following day, the farmer’s son tried to ride one of the untamed horses, was thrown, and broke his leg. The neighbors again came to offer their sympathy for his misfortune. “Maybe so, maybe not” answered the farmer.

The day after, military officials came to the village to draft young men into the army. Seeing that the son’s leg was broken, they passed him by. The neighbors congratulated the farmer on how well things had turned out. “Maybe so, maybe not,” said the farmer.

I think everyone on the 82nd floor of the World Trade Center perished that day. So what seemed to be an unfortunate event saved his life.

Hidetoshi found employment at a bank in midtown soon after but left after a few years to go after his dream of studying political science at the University of London. In September 2000 just a few days after Sanshiro was born, Hidetoshi left for London and I moved to Virginia to be near my family for a year.

The year passed quickly and Hidetoshi found work in Tokyo. He returned to Virginia in time for Sanshiro's first birthday party. We had one month to prepare our big move. If you have never packed up or sold everything single thing you have and dealing with three children on your own (6,3, and 1), thank your lucky stars! Because I was working as well, I had to begin at around 11 p.m each night to try to complete the immense task.

My mom came over to help me pack. At one point, in her very pragmatic way said, "You will NEVER get this done on time. You should just go and I will finish it after you leave." Thanks for the encouragement, Mom! I did get it done. I had to.

Not to be too hard on Mom, she is also the very practical woman who some years later sent me my late grandmother's ceramic pitcher which she always kept her iced tea in. When it arrived carefully wrapped so it would make it to Japan, I started to cry. Then I started to laugh because Mom had stuffed the inside of the pitcher with little boy's underwear for San (who was 2 at the time). Always practical Dorothy!

Back to our story - Our plan was for Hidetoshi to go ahead and find us a place to live. His flight to Tokyo was scheduled from Dulles to Narita on September 12th. My plan for September 11th was to drive with Hidetoshi and the children to Washington D.C. to pick up my Japanese Visa at the Embassy in Washington, spend the night at a hotel, drop Hide at Dulles on the 12th and drive back.

September 11th began quite well. It was a glorious fall day with clear skies. We rented a car at the local airport loaded the kids in and were just leaving the airport when we heard that an airplane had hit the World Trade Center #1. The local DJs were surprised and commented it must have been a mistake of an amateur pilot. The plane hit the building on the 93rd-99th floors. Then World Trade Center 2 was hit soon with the plane crashing into floors 75-85. Everyone realized it was a terrorist attack. Almost everyone on the floors above died. Then I realized the "bad" situation of Hidetoshi losing his job had saved his life.

I was now about 20 minutes down the road. I was driving and shaking. A few more miles down the road and The Pentagon was hit. Washington was closed to traffic. We had gone about 35 minutes from our home and were near the exit to my family home. I pulled in the driveway. We watched on live TV as the World Trade Centers crumbled. I was visibly shaking, crying and praying. I had seen these towers every day from my window. It was unthinkable. I worried about all my friends in New York. Millions of people traveled in the subways networks under that building.

When I stopped shaking, I realized we were not going anywhere. Washington was closed. The airports were closed and Hidetoshi had to figure out how he was going to get to his new job. We went back home and waited to hear when Hidetoshi could fly out. It took about a week and he was on the first flight out of Dulles.

The children and I flew the following week on a very empty flight out of Dulles and I got plenty of help from the flight attendants. We landed and were greeted by Hidetoshi, his sister Akiko and her husband. It seemed whenever I met any of his family over the years, it was always after about 20 hours of no sleep. They must think I am the most tired person they know. But we had landed safe and sound.

Next time, I will talk about suddenly becoming a foreigner and how the three half-Japanese children fared in their new home.

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