In 1981 I was 17 years old. I had lived all my life in a little town on the north west coast of Tasmania. My family made a big deal of holidays, so I had travelled relatively well along the eastern seaboard and even an excursion to New Zealand, but my world view was shaped by my secure, conservative upbringing in Ulverstone.
Gifu was, by Japanese standards a country town. But for this green teenager, 400,000 people getting around on an integrated public transport system was a metropolis. The culture change was broad and deep. I still remember my very first morning, being served a fried egg which I chased around my plate with the chop sticks, the only utensils on offer. In the height of summer I enjoyed rice from the pervious evening meal in cold green tea to start the day. No coco pops in sight?
One year later I had grown up. I had begun to appreciate that my view of reality was simply that, a view. I was stunned by a growing recognition that in the scheme of things, Australia, let alone Tasmania, was an insignificant player on the world stage. Australia had novelty, but Japan was a player. I had begun to see the world through another language, I had made friends.
As the year went on, I had started to imagine a reinvigorated life back home. I was determined to make choices about how to live and who to be, rather than follow the path of least resistance. My diary entries changed from recording events and activities to reflections and desires.
I had lived with a few families over the 12 months, but two were significantly more formative and the memories of the places are seared in my memory forever. Murai-san was my first host father. He owned a luggage and bag shop in the centre of town and his small family lived above it. He was a kind hearted man whose family lived less affluently than was typical for Rotary Club members of that era in Japan. I loved that bag shop.
Of my 12 months in Gifu, I lived 5 of them with the Kunitates. By Japanese standards they lived in a palace. Four easy going teenage children and generous parents meant I had an extravagant domestic experience. But more significantly, I have enduring recollections of sitting cross-legged at the kotatsu (small table with heater underneath and quilts around the edges) writing in my journal. I shared a room with Katsuhito, who will pick us up from our hotel next week and take us to visit his parents, still living in the same house. I am beside myself with nervous excitement.
In my recurring dream I am walking along the street, past the bag shop, around the corner to a tiny coffee shop where I made friends with a bunch of ‘radical’ Japanese surfers. I really, really hope that bag shop is still there and I will be in total rapture if that little coffee shop has survived. Either way, it will no longer be a wondering dream.