Home and Heritage

Over the last year, I’ve been reading a book about raising healthy TCKs (Third Culture Kids). There are some wonderful benefits to raising your kids overseas (like an expanded global worldview, outside-the-box thinkers, an intuitive ability to empathize, etc.). But there are also challenges that many TCKs tend to face and that don’t often surface until their adult years.

So, I’ve been reading about them and some proactive approaches as a parent to help them.

One of the suggestions was regarding how we spoke about “home”.

In my mind, “home” is America. It can also be wherever we currently have our suitcases– but the key idea of “home” for me is in a little wooded street between hills, with a green house with a white porch, drafty bedrooms and ongoing improvement projects.

For my kids, “home” is Japan. Their passports may say otherwise, but to them, our corner apartment on the side of a busy street through town is where their life goes on. Trips to America are just that– trips– to a foreign country. Loved ones are there, but essentially it’s a country and a culture where life is different.

In the book I’m reading, the author recommends referring to Mom and Dad’s home culture as their “heritage” as compared to their home.

It’s an interesting concept! So, we’ve been taking the opportunity to explore things on our trip to America as learning experiences for the kids– “This is where Mommy comes from. These are some things I ate growing up. This is how people in this part of America do this.”

Even though we’re American (well, and Honduran too), having lived on another continent for so long– we’ve changed a lot. Our ways of doing things have changed. Our taste buds have changed. Our way of thinking and perspective on many things has changed. So, our culture at “home”–the one in Japan– is not necessarily American. It’s a little mix of everything that works for us.

Approaching things from a heritage perspective has helped me be more purposeful about things– pointing things out, having conversations. Granted, they aren’t in depth conversations since it’s a (almost) 7 year old and a 4 year old.

But it’s a start between bridging these worlds that are oceans, plane rides and life experiences apart.

Phone Calls

One of the most intimidating things for me is making phone calls. If possible, I always prefer to talk to a real person. It’s so much easier to understand– seeing their face, their mouth moving, anything they might have to show me– I usually leave with a fuller understanding of what the situation is and what I need to do, if anything.

Plus– if you don’t manage the phone call well, you might end up making things worse. Or having to incorporate a 3rd party.

We pay most of our bills via cash (Japan is still primarily a cash society) at the local convenience store. But more and more, everyone wants us to pay via bank transfers or credit card and send a little explanation page with this “easy” bank transfer option.

Since we deal with banks on two continents, different accounts in Japan, and have to keep good records and budgets and all that fun stuff, it’s just easier to deal with cash.

Anyway. I got a fancy-looking bank transfer slip from the electric company a few weeks back. It looked kinda important, and seemed like it was a new way to pay that they were offering. It had certain codes and all that. I browsed over it, but didn’t get the impression that it was mandatory.

Still, I stored it away with my stack of “questionably important Japanese paperwork” that I’m not always sure what to do with.

We were getting ready to go to “the ‘Merica'” as my 3 year old calls it, and I was attempting to make sure everything everywhere was accounted for and taken care of before we left for a month.

I kept waiting for my electric bill to arrive.

It was about 10 days late. I had an uneasy feeling and the clock was ticking. So I went back to my questionably important pile, re-read it more carefully and lo and behold- it was not an optional payment method.

I needed to register my phone to receive a link to pay online. Complication #1. I didn’t recognize the last digits registered for the phone number. I guess when we moved and a friend helped us get our utilities set up, they registered the account to their own phone. Complication #2. And now I’m late on receiving my bill. Complication #3.

So I did some fiddling online, tried to change the number registered and sign up for the fancy new service. I hoped I had it taken care of.

A day later, and two days before departure, I still had no resolution and no way to pay my bill. I didn’t want to arrive back to Japan with our electric off in the dead of winter.

So I broke down and called. Eventually I heard the word “operator” and pressed the number accordingly.

A long explanation of “my situation” with its complications, long periods on hold while the operator checked with his manager about how to handle us (Japan is very by the book– and we usually don’t fit in the books!)… and 30 minutes later we had a solution.

I felt really satisfied at how far we’ve come in being able to get things done and manage affairs in Japan– even so far as making phone calls! Still, pride goes before the fall, so I don’t want to get over-confident, because I’ll probably botch the next one.

Glimpses

So, I’ve been toying with the idea for a while of changing up the blog format to something that’s a little more feasible… and that’s just to give you short glimpses into the window of our little corner of the world. Hopefully this will let me post more frequently and not have to try to aim for clever blogs. 😉

So, without further adieu:

The Post Office

Like many places in Japan, the post office is a useful place. Not only can you obviously post things, but you apparently there are things you can do with insurance and savings and other things. I don’t know much about that, because I only frequent one window of the post office.

I frequent that window, and they know me. Not just me, but my kids too. Especially this sweet, short lady in her 50s with a short cut that curls under her round face. I got to know her during the Christmas season while I was desperately trying to attach stamps to a huge stack of cards destined overseas. The staff wasn’t able to attach them due to the quantity, so I stood in the back, rocking with my foot a baby stroller that contained a very unhappy little one. I was frazzled, and she had compassion.

She particularly admires my oldest child, has followed the course of my second and third pregnancy and was so excited to meet Ronja when she finally was out and about after lockdown.

And I never fail to confound them. Especially lately.

I had to go in to open a “Post Office” bank account. If you live in Japan, it’s likely that you’ll have to end up opening an account at a variety of banks. For example, my kids’ preschool only accepts bank transfer payment from Mizuho. The kids’ swimming class only accepts bank transfers from two or 3 banks. As Rosalyn is getting ready to go to first grade, the PTA payment is only accepted from the Post Office “Yuucho” account.

Thus I ventured in. I spent a good long time explaining to another lady behind the counter (and by default, to the entire room) why we’re considered self-employed even though we have an organization that is based in America. She took lots of notes, got lots of binders out and gave me a packet of papers to fill out and come back in a couple hours after she’d researched how to handle my case.

It ended up being pretty straightforward, and she was very kind and helpful and even apologized another time I came into the post office for the hard time it was to open the account.

Then, I came in to ask about the luggage delivery service to the airport. More binders. Asked to come back again. I came back and they had a clear understanding of “my case” and everything ready for me.

And back to that packet I sent recently. With this pandemic, which countries are accepting mail (and which type of mail) is constantly changing. I stood at the counter, knowing to expect a wait. My three ladies, including my main lady, were gathered, leaning into the screen, pressing buttons and conferring.

I stood there, watching them and smiling. I really love them. They know that.

They figured it out eventually. And I left with fond feelings of how sweet “community” is.