In 2013, I took a life changing trip to Sardinia, Italy. There was no epiphany nor can I really tell you a singular turning point. I just know that something profound happened. Maybe it was seeing my family’s name carved in the stone of a hundred year old cork factory. Maybe it was eating grapes straight from the vine with Emilio and then selecting a bottle of his homemade wine for lunch. Maybe it was seeing ancient photos of my ancestors hung casually on the walls of Tomasino’s house. In a whirlwind of two or three days was face to face with extended family and was graciously invited into their lives. We broke bread together, laughed over glasses of wine, and became facebook friends. I never met my grandfather that I can thank for my Italian amount hair and olive skin but in these moment I was able to see where he came from. Then I got on my touring scooter and spent the next week or so in complete silence. I sat alone, slept alone, drank alone, swam alone, crashed my scooter alone. Maybe it was the overwhelming silence. Maybe I will put words to why another day, but I will treasure that trip forever.
In a very millennial way, before that term existed, I whined about growing up a military kid and not having a single geographical location to call home. I whined about never having a succinct answer to the most basic of introduction questions. Even for a while I just played along and never corrected people when they assumed I was half African American, Middle Eastern, Native American, Indian, Persian, Hispanic or whatever ethnic identifier that they felt was important to label. I kept silent not because I was ashamed, but because I was tired of explaining to people that I would never see again. My ethnic make up was a story that I wanted to share with truly interested individuals through my personal experiences, not just a list of countries.
After my trip to Sardinia, I decided I would go to Japan the following year. Here is what I’ve managed to piece together. My grandmother left Japan married to my Sardinian-American grandfather in the years that followed World War II. Soon I realized that saving enough money to travel to Japan in 2014 was unrealistic, so I did the next logical thing, I got a not so genealogically accurate pie chart tattooed on my chest.
Jump to 2017. In those four years, I fell in love with a woman, got married and settled down. Then refused to settle down. We quit our jobs and pulled up stakes to move to South Korea in a time of somewhat arguable global unrest. We have been in Korea for a little over four months and so far is proving to be the mind expanding, horizon broadening, breaking the mold experience that we were seeking. We wanted to see more of the world and experience something different.
We spent the last few days of 2017 and early 2018 driving on the left hand side of the road circumventing the Japanese island of Kyushu. The goal was to visit the small fishing village where my grandmother grew up and see the house where she had lived. The expectations ended there.
Once in Itoshima, we didn’t want to leave. Driving on one lane mountain roads, vegetation growing through cracks in the pavement and over the sides of the road creating a tunnel around the car, hairpin mirrors that were so covered in grime they were useless. Waking up to shoot the sunrise and watching the sunset. Watching surfers interact with blue/green whitecaps crashing on the black rock beaches. Returning to a very cozy traditional Japanese house to lounge on the tatami floor in front of a Kerosene heater. It was perfectly dark and moody for most of our time there.
We located my grandmother’s childhood home and drove past it about 15 times over the three days. I stopped twice to take pictures each time resulting in a humorous interaction with a neighbor that happened to be outside. Not speaking any Japanese was not helpful but managed to explain our reason for being there. After an eventful dawn watching the fishermen bring in their catch and sampling some very fresh oysters while sporting some very fashion forward attire, we drove past the house one last time on our way out of town. This time I knocked on the door, google translate and a camera or three at the ready.
My great uncle answered the door looking very surprised. After a short exchange of saying family member names and an inspection of my Fujifilm x100s, he disappeared back into the house and returns with a Canon FTb 35mm camera and placed it into my hands. I was speechless in both languages. We took a few photos and got invited into the house to look through some photo albums. We got to see his family and his three sons. I showed him some recent family photos that we took back in July. He suggested we go eat some udon and it does not disappoint. My senses were overloaded by the general casualness of the situation and the best bowl of udon that I will probably ever have in my life. We finished eating and sort of chat for a few minutes, parting ways with a hug - the south has clearly rubbed off on me.
Three hours later we watched the moon rise from a boiling hot wild onsen about 50 kilometers down several dirt roads in the middle of the Japanese wilderness. Much like when I left my newfound family in Sardinia, I retreated into my mind to digest the event.
I have a wonderful, loving family back in the US and I don’t tell all of them that often enough. I have my dear wife, Alyson and one day we will have a family of our own. Somehow traveling halfway around the world makes me feel closer to them. There are so many trite quotes about knowing yourself, but they don’t really express how I feel. This wasn’t an adventure of self-discovery it was something else. Maybe in another 5 years I will be able to put it into words, but for now my visual storytelling will have to pick up where my words leave me.