My Past Life

Food for Thought

Reflexively, I expect to run into my middle school friends as they were 35 years ago, but these scurrying commuters define themselves within the societal expectations, protocols, and laws that are now foreign to me. So, I’m back but no longer exist here. It’s as if someone planted these memories in me—familiar yet alien. It’s strange that their speech even makes sense in my head.

I’m sure they also sense something amiss in me—familiar yet foreign—in the same way I can differentiate Japanese tourists from Japanese Americans.

It’s a reminder that our existence is mostly symbolic and imaginary, different from just “being there.” If I suddenly collapsed and died on the street, people would not know who I am and who to contact. My credit cards have a Japanese name in English, issued by a bank they’ve never heard of. I’d be a familiar body lying there, disconnected from their world, like a time traveler.

Many people maintain identities in both worlds, but ultimately, they have a home currency to which they convert their sense of worth. What they do in the secondary country is designed to increase their reputation, authority, and prestige at home. Independently maintaining both would amount to living a double life and dilute the value of each, so most people choose one home currency consciously or unconsciously.

When I moved to the States, I wanted to see if I could become an American. It’s not that I wanted to be one; I just wanted to know what I was capable of achieving as if it were an experiment. But this “achievement” could only be appreciated by Japanese people. Naturally, Americans would take it for granted as becoming an American was not a conscious effort or choice. This means, somewhere in my mind, I had staked my sense of self-worth on Japanese people’s perception of me, but I’ve disconnected myself so far that I have no idea how they perceive me, and they wouldn’t know how to evaluate me either.

Japan is my past life, and Japan today is not the same Japan I know. It is a curious foreign country that shares the same roots. At this point, whatever I do here will have to be incorporated into who I am at home in America.