Home Discover Japan Meeting my family in Okayama

Meeting my family in Okayama

Welcome cake at my cousin's home in Okayama

North American Post Japan Tour Traveler’s Report Series

By Roy Namba, For The North American Post

Thanks to the North American Post and the Hokubei Hochi Foundation, I had a wonderful opportunity to discover Japan in September 2018. My Dad was Issei born in Japan, my Mom was Kibei born in California and raised in Japan. Both my parents’ families are from Okayama prefecture. When the 2018 version of the North American Post’s tour included an outing to Okayama, there was no way I would turn this down. I was born in Seattle and at age 63, I had never been to Japan.

Home cooked feast at my cousin’s home in Okayama

My mom’s siblings live in California, so the only relatives I know of in Japan are on my Dad’s side. Some had visited us many years ago in Seattle. Admittedly apprehensive due to the language barrier, I contacted them to let them know we were visiting Japan.

Our flight left Seattle around 1:30 p.m. Monday and with the 10-hour flight and 16-hour time difference, we finally arrived at the Shinagawa Prince Hotel in Tokyo Tuesday evening. I had provided a copy of our itinerary to my cousins, Kazumi and Naomi, via email. Kazumi had replied to my email saying something about “being in Tokyo” during that time. Because of the translation, I was not sure what she intended. As we got onto the elevator at the hotel, surprise!!! My wife Jami spotted Kazumi and recognized her right away. I was totally not expecting her to come to Tokyo from Okayama just to greet us!

Kazumi’s daughter Yumi lives in Tokyo and was there to greet us as well. The North American Post’s tour guide, Shigeki, helped us by interpreting and arranged for them to meet us in our room. Although it was late and we were weary from the travel, we were able to spend a little time with them.

In the meantime, cousin Naomi invited Jami and me to stay overnight at her home during our stay in Okayama. Again, the email translations made communications not very clear. I believe Naomi’s intent was to greet us in Kyoto. However, with Typhoon Trami barreling towards Japan, tour plans began to change as the winds picked up. On Sunday, we were supposed to leave Takayama and go to Kyoto by riding the Shinkansen train via Nagoya. However, Typhoon Trami had shut down the Shinkansen to Kyoto. Very quickly, an unplanned stay Sunday in Nagoya was arranged. Okayama was on the schedule for Monday but had to be cancelled because it became the travel day from Nagoya to Kyoto. All the while I was exchanging emails with Naomi adjusting plans. She came to the New Miyako Hotel in Kyoto Monday all the way from Okayama to escort us to her home and to make sure we did not get lost.

Jami and I got the royal treatment with a large family gathering for dinner at Naomi’s that night. As the evening went on, the fear of the language barrier seemed to melt away. I know some Japanese words and phrases, and they know some English. Together with Google Translate and an app they were using we were able to communicate adequately. The next day Naomi took us all over Okayama, showing us, among other places, the Namba family cemetery. Although we missed being with the tour to Hiroshima Tuesday, it was such an extraordinary experience to get a taste of authentic life in Japan. Naomi’s daughter Tomomi escorted us back to Kyoto. The people of Japan are refreshingly respectful and polite, and my relatives epitomized that to the max.

Our experience for the whole Japan trip was awesome. Even Typhoon Trami added to the experience. Our personal excursion to Okayama puts it over the top! The plans and itinerary made by the North American Post were terrific. Everyone on the tour was fantastic and fun to be with and we now have many new friends. I cannot express in words how indelible these fond memories will be with me for life.