For anyone who has had the experience of being stateless or drifting between nations not knowing where they might be allowed to stay, the news that I received from the Japan immigration office today, that my application for permanent residency was approved, will carry the familiar sense of relief that I am feeling today. Though I am a German and do not want to give up my German citizenship I have never lived there and don’t think I would really know what to do with myself if Germany was the only place I had to return to. I’ve been in Japan so long now that it almost goes without saying that I would make this place my permanent home, but all my life until now Japan has remained a kind of mirage that hadn’t accepted me yet into its fray. It has always been difficult to commit myself to this place, give my whole heart to it, while its people had not in return shown me steps that would justify my spending my energy in making this a proper home. Yet, today, the nod was given and, in spite of my skepticism before, it has made a whole lot of difference.
So many people around the world take the place they live, and their country, for granted. Many of them have never experienced the wrenching feeling of dislocation that accompanies the realization that, if circumstances dictated, you would find yourself adrift in an indifferent world, belonging nowhere, akin to no community. In these last two years, with the choices of possibly being forced to leave Japan, but not being able to return to the States because of the crackdown in immigration (even though most of my family lives there), maybe only being able to choose Europe as my destination, but knowing only a few people there and no job prospects, or perhaps seeking out some other, only obscurely imagined country (I’ve imagined New Zealand) my sense of losing hold of my place on the ground grew more and more acute, until, in these last two months, I had the feeling that parachutist might have when drawing nigh a forest with no breaks… no idea where to put my foot down because there is no place safe or solid.
I had always thought of myself as more a less a wanderer and lone wolf until the wandering and lone wolfing became the only path I could see. I understood then that, while roving still boils in my blood, I also need some ground to lay roots in and to grip the earth with my toes so that I can see where and who I am. Just as much, I need others… friends, colleagues, neighbors… around me to help define me as an individual and act as the catalysts that bring alive and give meaning to all that I endeavor when communicating or working. Wandering around without purpose or direction or starting point only adds to a sense of aimlessness that I feel has the effect of rendering human actions and thoughts null if not reciprocated by another or by a place. I no longer believe in the individual who gets all they want or does whatever they damn well please. More and more I believe that a fulfilled person is an individual in the larger world, filling in the role of a piece in the jigsaw puzzle.
And so this acceptance of my part in Japanese society has given me a show of confidence in me that I deeply appreciate, even if it is only a bureaucratic filling in of check-marked requirements. Someone, somewhere thought to allot me a place here that I can fill and, like an anchor, it secures the long luffing sail of my self confidence and gives me a place to recalculate my new steps.