Home is a concept with special meaning for us all. I say “concept” and not “reality” (though the two are not always so easily divided) because it is important to draw attention to the cognitive, imagined dimension. To focus on the imagined dimension of home is to foreground the fact that home is equally made in the spaces of the mind as it is in physical spaces. However, this narrowing must come with a qualification: even while the individual (whether alone or as a member of a family or other community unit) is responsible for an individual concept of home his/her acts of imagination are as within a matrix of social and cultural influences. The home ideas of others, especially those with the privileges of dominant representation overlap and resonate on each other and on our own. Our concepts, of home or otherwise, are rarely wholly original and free from the fragments of others. We make our homes in the shadows of ideas cast by others as they make theirs in ours.
Home has always felt like an act for me. Perhaps this is because I moved away from my original domicile at the relatively early age of sixteen. I metaphorically wandered for several years until I stumbled on an academic path that would equip me with the intellectual tools necessary for apprehending my immediate reality. I gained home making narratives of others, particularly those of local Bundjalung Aborigines. They taught me that the places on which social and cultural institutions had been placed had a longer history and the very soil itself possessed memories of a belonging based on something other than colonization and empire building. Another concept of significant resonance to me was a Koori sense of time in which the past persists into the present. Anglo-sphere colonial narratives, rooted in traditions of documented lineage, force time into a narrow, linear, consecutive idea giving primacy to the knowledges that came before. Thus allowing an inhabited land to be declared terra nullius.
Being in a space, performing life over time creates place. The rhythm and repetition of the familiar and the strange to the point that it becomes familiar are the actions of making home. Where we place ourselves is where we make home. A concept of self is performed constantly always becoming in the milieu of space, place and people. Rarely do we have the opportunity to properly reflect on this process and it is unusual for many to perform explicitly, with purpose and consciousness. Which is not to devalue unconscious participation, since to do so merely buys into the oppressive language of binaries established by others for specific colonizing purposes. Perhaps it is more accurate to say we all possess differing degrees to which we feel “at home” so that the experience for some appears entirely natural and unquestioned (although it is not, it has in fact become that way through performances executed without friction from institutions of authority.) For others, such as myself, being at home is a deliberate act based on calculation and analysis.
This latter type of becoming at home faces the criticism, usually in the form of anti-intellectual interjection, as a kind of cynical artifice. To be obstinate, one could rightly claim that “natural” belonging is equally calculated as a person in possession of such feeling has been created and creates him/herself in a context conducive to prosperity. This is a position arrived at in order to perpetuate certain types of social and cultural hegemony, again not inherently negative yet nevertheless real. For those not positioned within this center, belonging and home must be constructed along different lines and so we return to the explicit performativity mentioned above.
Relocating to Japan required a sacrifice of the home cache that I had created over time in Australia. On a molecular level, it is unquestionable that the space of my former home and I are interconnected. Yet distance, both temporal and spatial, combined with other resonances such as relationship, food and ceremony in a different space have changed the quality of that feeling to such an extent that the place to which I refer to above persists only as memory. Even as I reside within the same cartographical coordinates, time, people and the world have moved on. The place has changed as much as I have and I was not there to see it.
It took considerable time for me to send out tender shoots of belonging into the social and cultural of earth of my new home in Japan. Naturally, I experienced various symptoms of culture shock. More accurately, I experienced cultural dislocation. The key strategy for opening up a dialectics of becoming between personal identity and a new landscape was that of language acquisition. Each new word, inflection and exchange between me and the locals was a branching out, a fixing of me in this new place. As my proficiency increased so did my sense of belonging. What had simply been unfiltered linguistic noise was now a tapestry of words defining place, time and the flavour of the place I lived. I no longer required the cognitive constructs of gaijin that I had naively relied on in the past, since I possessed the power of language. I became able to deconstruct in real time, based on experiences in the every day present the internal construction of Japan based on foreign knowledges and compounded by those gaijin unable, unwilling and uninterested in learning how to belong.
This resulted in a profound life change. After all, as I daily became more of this place in terms of a feeling of belonging, so too was I in a sense, becoming Japanese. Before proceeding, a cautionary note. This is a complex topic and I speak only from my own personal experience. I want to make it explicit that I am originally of the post-Imperial Anglosphere, that is, I am originally a monolingual, white Australian. This is important and although I only touch on it here I will write about it in an upcoming piece on the problematics of “authenticity”. When I say, “becoming Japanese” I do not intend the phrase to mean that I deliberately adopt behaviours and practices in order to be perceived as authentically Japanese. Instead, I refer to an ongoing process in which daily life, lived with reflexivity and curiosity produces countless opportunities to apprehend and comprehend cultural complexities of a host nation as an immigrant. As I undo my preconceptions of the world and myself so too do I create a field of belonging, a Japanese version of myself.
In this regard, my Japanese-ness does not require legitimation or validation. It may be judged and evaluated but the aim is and was never to slide myself into a popular or accepted, local or foreign construct of being Japanese. It is an intimate, subtle and reflexive personal expression. It is not, however, free from moments of awkwardness, shame and misunderstanding. But then again, life was like that before I ever came to Japan.
One of my greatest disappointments in Japan is the way that the majority of voices have constructed the interstitial migrant-becoming-Japanese in such limited terms. There remains an undercurrent of transience and distrust relating to issues of authenticity. A linguistic divide functions as a cognitive divide. Within the parameters of this construct, Japan can only ever be negatively deconstructed. The irony being that the deconstructers frequently rely on fixed, romanticized constructs of distant, pseudo perfect homelands. In other words, they render the complexity of the original home to the same sort of fixed, fetishised knowledge that they possess on Japan and engage in a lopsided version of the glass bead game whereby the odds are stacked against the society they chose to be in and choose not to belong to.