No-one in Japan knew my dad had died. I wanted to fix that
No-one in Japan knew Kumi Taguchi’s dad had died. She wanted to fix that
Updated October 15, 2019 09:28:14
Back in March, I went to a country I adore, Japan, to film a documentary. Not on the Olympics or robots or sushi trains — this was going to be about me.
Japan is where my Dad was born, where half my genetic history lies and where many of my childhood memories were made — nibbling rice crackers, seeing my grandparents and running around beautiful gardens.
While my relationship with my Japaneseness has shifted over the years — from discomfort to joy and all in between — my love of Japan has never wavered.
The culture, politeness, attention to detail, cleanliness, aesthetic — I could go on. In recent years, my emotional connection to the country has deepened, especially since my father died over two years ago.
No-one in his place of birth knew that he had died. I wanted to rectify that.
Dad died in Melbourne, where he had lived for 43 years.
He loved the city and loved Australia. He played golf and, in old age, lawn bowls.
He drove himself to the local markets to buy vegetables. His friends called him Aki, a shortened version of his name, Akira.
As requested by him, he was cremated. He asked that his ashes be scattered on Australian soil.
The first year after his death was taken up with tying up his affairs and processing his loss.
In the second year, I went back and forth to Japan, trying to understand a bit more about his life.
And as I wandered the streets that had shaped him as a child and young adult, an overwhelming feeling of sadness washed over me.
The storyteller becomes the story
I became a journalist because I was, and still am, fascinated by the stories of others.
I didn’t become a journalist to tell stories about myself.
But over the last few years, I have been more open about my wrangle with my mixed heritage and have aired my thoughts about identity and belonging.
Where we feel at home is such a fundamental question, the ABC Compass team felt it worthy of interrogation. So, over a series of months, we planned Kumi’s Japan.
I also wanted to see whether I could find my family home, to deliver the news of dad’s death.
I didn’t have any other way but to find the building, in a small street in Tokyo.
The only phone number was disconnected and I had no email address of the cousin I was hoping to find.
The last time I saw him was when I was a child.
On a crisp spring morning, our small crew of three — me, producer Tracey, and camera operator Richard — landed in Tokyo.
We arrived at the height of the cherry blossom season.
It was my first time seeing the pink flowers bloom and all that takes place around their short life — special food and drinks and picnics and concerts, couples walking hand-in-hand at night, cameras craned to capture single petals.
Our first few days were wrapped up in this magic. I got used to the camera being on me for 12 hours a day. I was elated at being back in my second home.
I bought my favourite snacks and retuned my brain into reading Japanese. I went to my favourite cafe and felt like a regular. But when the focus started to shift to my story, my enjoyment started to fall.
Doing what I asked of other people
It all piled up about a third of the way into the trip — I had a meltdown on a shinkansen, a bullet train, with everything a blur outside the window.
Even if the train had not been speeding along at nearly 300 kilometres an hour, I would have struggled to see clearly because my eyes were flooded with tears.
I turned to Tracey and sobbed.
"I don’t want to do this anymore, I don’t want my life to be on camera."
Tracey listened as I told her that I wanted to go home. And finally, after a space of silence, I asked her: "Has this happened to other people you have worked with?"
"Every single time," she told me. "This is normal, and I expect it. This is part of the process."
We talked about vulnerability and honesty. We spoke about the importance of story. I reminded myself why I wanted to make this film in the first place and my passion for the subject.
And then I thought of the hundreds upon hundreds of people I have interviewed over the last 20 years, on camera and on the radio.
To name just a few, they have been ex-prisoners and soldiers and policemen suffering from PTSD; musicians and politicians, athletes and writers and fathers; dentists and physicists and sportspeople.
All open to sharing often uncomfortable parts of their lives.
I thought of them as I looked out the window, our train zipping past towns and trees and power lines and Mount Fuji, and I knew that I couldn’t ask something of others that I was not willing to ask of myself.
What kind of journalist would I be if I pulled out when it started to get tough?
So we continued on. I hiked in the mountains and sat in hot baths and went for a jog underneath pink blossoms in Hiroshima.
I ate the best okonomiyaki, Japanese pancakes, I have ever had and way too many strawberry red bean cakes.
I caught up with dear friends and walked in the streets my dad would have run down as a small boy.
And in the moments it became confronting or difficult, I would remind myself that unlike most people who find the camera turned on them, I would get to see my story before it was broadcast.
Others don’t get that chance — the first time they see themselves is the same time everyone else does.
I admire their courage. And thank them for their generosity.
I was comforted by the streets I feel comfortable in, the language I relish, the smells and sounds of Japan. They shaped not only my history and memories, but those of my dad.
In searching for him, I found parts of myself I didn’t realise I had lost.
Kumi’s Japan goes to air at 9:30pm on Tuesday, October 15 on ABC TV and iview.
First posted October 15, 2019 08:00:00
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October 15, 2019 at 09:37AM