When I first picked up Himawari House, I had no idea what I was in store for. The main character, Nao, was a half white, half japanese kid in-between college and high school taking a year to study in Japan. They had stated that they felt too Japanese in America and too American in Japan. What this character will never know is that they were a direct, and disturbingly accurate portrayal of me- a half white, half Japanese college student who had just come back from studying abroad in Japan- and who, coincidentally, also had a major identity crisis during their time abroad. The main difference between my and Ame’s experiences abroad was that by the time she returned to America Nao had felt she solved her identity crisis, while I hadn’t. In the book, Nao had a deep conversation with a friend she stayed with and figured out that it doesn’t matter if she feels more American or Japanese. Her point of view was that either way, her identity as a halfū, as they call them in Japan, was still real and valid. That she existed and had a place, and it was ok that the place may not be in only Japan or only America.
While I appreciate this perspective and it helped me think of my identity in a new way, I didn’t feel as happy and satisfied with it as the character in the book did. Being half Japanese and half American has always been valid to me. I didn’t need external validation for that. My issue was that I was still so different from Americans and the Japanese that I felt I lacked a crucial part of life: a sense of belonging. This sense of disbelonging has only been amplified by me being a college student– the space in between a teenager and becoming an adult. I have pondered my position in society many times, and have come up with no answer. As far as I was concerned, neither had Nao. She only realized she was a valid, real person with her answer. I already had that, and I didn’t know how that applied to me.
However, looking back at that book, maybe it wasn’t the straightforward message of validity that I first perceived. I came to realize that yes, Nao on a surface-level had ‘solved’ her identity issue through a single conversation. But she also found her sense of belonging as well. However, this sense of belonging wasn’t as straightforward as I thought it would be. Her sense of belonging wasn’t in a geographical place, and after realizing what it was for her, I found that it was also the same for me. Nao’s sense of belonging came from her friends and personal connections to others. She belonged with people that accepted her. Whether she was too Japanese or too American, the friends she surrounded herself with accepted her anyway. I too always feel like I belong more when I am surrounded by people who accept me. My connections back home and abroad both fuel my identity and sense of self. Himawari House is something that helped me realize this, and I truly appreciate it.
When I came back to America, my father’s friend asked me my favorite thing I experienced abroad. I believe he was referring to some kind of wild, exotic cultural experience. The food, the sights, or something like the train system. Instead, I realized in that moment I had found my sense of belonging as well. I had both made friends abroad who understood me and had found that I could come home to those who made me feel welcome. I realized I had the same outcome Nao did from visiting Japan. So when he asked me that question, I smiled and said, “It was the people.”