A Journey of Cultural Reflection, Resilience, and Shared Experiences
Over the course of the past two weeks, I have been able to fulfill a lifelong dream of mine by traveling to Japan. I am still here for another week, but I must say that my favorite experience thus far has involved meeting a man named Tomoyoshi Yamanaka.
There is something truly captivating about Tomoyoshi; he exudes an aura of discipline and stoicism that immediately draws you in. He takes his thoughts and actions very seriously, and this kind of deep reflection is intriguing and inspiring. Spending time in his company has been a privilege, and I feel grateful to have had the opportunity to learn from him.
During our conversations, Tomoyoshi shared some truly fascinating stories about the ancient Samurai, including his own great-grandfather, Yoshishige Hayashi. However, what really made this experience so special was learning about the controversial influence of Bushido values and how they pushed Japan and Tomoyoshi’s family towards extremism, culminating in the extreme violence and imperialism of the Japanese people leading up to and during World War II.
Tomoyoshi himself grew up under the influence of a bitter father who longed for the days of a glorious Japan. His father was filled with anger and hatred towards outsiders, holding onto xenophobic and violent values that had been instilled in him by his own father.
However, Tomoyoshi’s story does not end there. He shared how he found redemption, inner peace, and a life of pacifism after a leap of faith. This involved participating in an exchange program in America at the age of sixteen, which fundamentally changed everything for him.
As I listened to Tomoyoshi’s story, I was struck by how much it resonated with my own experience as an immigrant. Like Tomoyoshi, I come from a culture whose values I found problematic, and I too have family members who have held onto those same problematic values. At the same time, our generation (millennials) has been told time and time again how terrible America is and how bad Western values are.
So many of us have forgotten the past. What the past truly was like, and why our ancestors did what they did. Why they made the sacrifices they made.
Simultaneously, those same people who are quick to point out the problematic history of the West, such as slavery or imperialism, easily gloss over the fact that one country alone, India, has more slaves right now (12 million) than the United States did during the start of the Civil War (4 million).
Or how China’s (subjugation and annihilation of Uyghur culture and people) and Russia’s (war in Ukraine) modern-day imperialism is just as bad, if not worse than what the Western imperial powers did.
Meeting Tomoyoshi has been truly refreshing, as he has gone through similar struggles to mine and comes out stronger and more at peace with himself. His story has helped me feel less alone in this world, and I am grateful for the opportunity to have met such a wise and inspiring individual.