I am still recovering from an amazing weekend. Imagine this! Being in a room with nearly 140 women from every part of the globe, ages ranging from 20s to 90s with only one thing in common. But that one thing is more than enough to make all of us to feel a tremendous sense of connection and commitment to one another. At some point, all AFWJ members have been married to a Japanese man and have thus begun the journey of being regarded as a foreigner within our own marriages.
Quite a few of our marriages are flourishing. Many others have floundered and died. Some of us have thrived in Japan while others are having a hard time hanging on. And there are those of us, like myself, who no longer reside in Japan but still feel a profoundly deep and lasting connection to our sisters in AFWJ and to Japan.
AFWJ stands for the Association of Foreign Wives of Japanese and is truly an amazing group. Through AFWJ women come together for friendship, mutual support, useful information and most of all, for the healing laughter, fun and the profoundly rich understanding that can only come from meeting with others who have having shared our experiences of being foreigners who have married into a Japanese family.
This past weekend close to 140 of us gathered at a hotel in Chiba City, Japan to celebrate the 40th anniversary of our unique club. To tell the truth, I was quite nervous about coming. I haven’t been to a convention for nearly a decade, since moving back to the States with my family in 1999.
Originally, we moved to find help for our son who was showing very clear developmental delays. I was worried about fitting back into AFWJ after being away for so long. After all, my life is very different from what I left behind…or so I thought. Within the first five minutes of the convention, every worry slipped away and I found myself bouncing between tears of recognition, joy and sorrow coupled with belly laughs that left me sore and longing for more. It was as if time had stood still while I have been gone Of course, many of my AFWJ sisters were sporting a few more gray hairs than before and there were many new additions to the club, but the love and the generosity of spirit that drew me to AFWJ in the first place was still there in abundance.
I feel so blessed to have had the opportunity reconnect with my senpai (wise seniors) and make new friends with my lovely younger kohai (freshman). I was grateful to hear that many of my old friends could see how much I had grown since leaving Japan. Rather than feeling the distance that can often enter into relationships where such growth has taken place, I was instead greeted with open arms and tears of recognition. The friends I met seemed to be truly happy for how well my life has turned out. Many recalled our son’s difficult adoption and the challenges I faced while trying to get help for his developmental difficulties.
My dear AFWJ sisters laughed and cried me, sharing their stories too. Stories that only another foreign wife of a Japanese man could ever understand. I am so glad that I came and hope that I will be able to join everyone next year for the annual convention in Hokkaido.