Discover Nikkei

https://www.discovernikkei.org/en/journal/series/home-leaver/

Home Leaver: A Japanese American Search for Belonging


April 28, 2023 - Nov. 24, 2023

This series consists of reflective essays on Japanese American identity and search for belonging based upon the author’s recent experiences in Japan. Part confession, part historical analysis, part cultural comparison, and part religious exploration, it offers fresh and humorous insights into what it means to be Japanese American in our suddenly global age.

*Episodes in the “Home Leaver” series come from Kurashige’s eponymously titled and unpublished memoir.


Acknowledgements: These chapters would not have been published on this webpage (or likely anywhere) without the crucial support of Greg Robinson—a friend and fellow historian, who it turned out was also a wonderful editor. Greg’s insightful comments and edits on drafts of these chapters made me a better writer and storyteller. Also crucial was Yoko Nishimura and her team at Discover Nikkei for their layout of the chapters and superb professionalism. Negin Iranfar read multiple drafts of this work and, even more, listened to me talk about it over and again for the better part of a year—her comments and support were sustaining. Finally, I want to acknowledge and thank the people and institutions who appear or are referenced in these stories. Regardless of whether I noted their true identities, or whether my memory and perspective aligned with theirs, they have my abiding gratitude for making it possible for me to leave home—and to create one in Japan.



Stories from this series

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Chapter 8—The Way Home

Nov. 24, 2023 • Lon Kurashige

Yayoi and I walked across a university campus admiring its historic gate, patinaed statues, and path replete with fallen yellow fan-shaped leaves. We had passed through here before on our way to her house, but this time she invited me to take the lead, testing whether I had paid attention and remembered the many shortcuts she took that made an already difficult route even harder. I failed. Once we exited campus, Yayoi was forced to lead the way as I …

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Chapter 7—Home Leaver

Oct. 27, 2023 • Lon Kurashige

I once met a travelling monk from Japan. After a full career and family life, he retired from both to embark on a spiritual journey. He received Buddhist ordination and uprooted himself from the soil of his familiar. His new life chapter had recently begun when we crossed paths in Los Angeles, where he was in between stays at Zen practice centers in Oregon and Iowa.  “What about you wife and kids?” I asked. “How are they doing without you?” …

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Chapter 6—Three Nuns

Sept. 29, 2023 • Lon Kurashige

Haunting drumbeats from the soundtrack of Lost in Translation put me into a nostalgic trance as I sped through the Japanese countryside at 178 miles per hour. I had just met a woman who worked on this film about two Americans stranded in Tokyo, and we planned to dine at the stylish Shinjuku hotel where Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansson’s characters fall in love. But before our date could take place, I was scheduled to live like a monk for …

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Chapter 5—Japan as Number One

Aug. 25, 2023 • Lon Kurashige

I was waiting near the entrance to the third university in Tokyo where I was to teach as a visiting lecturer. One of the school’s graduate students offered to show me around the sprawling community adjacent to campus. I had met Naomi a few weeks back at a reception for Japanese fellows who were soon to leave for various destinations in the US, which for her was New York City. She was studying for a Ph.D. in international relations and …

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Chapter 4—Globalization

July 28, 2023 • Lon Kurashige

The University of Tokyo was the second school where I taught as a visiting lecturer. Known as “Todai” (short for Tokyo Daigaku), it is widely regarded as the nation’s top university—the Harvard of Japan. You might think that the country’s best and brightest students would be eager to challenge themselves by taking a course in English offered by a foreigner like me. In fact, they avoided my classes, save for a few who had grown up overseas and were fluent …

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Chapter 3—The Missionary

June 30, 2023 • Lon Kurashige

“So what kind of person do you think the author is?” I asked the students in my class at an elite women’s college in Tokyo. Crickets. “Does the text suggest her ethnic or class background?” More crickets, faces cast downward or blankly staring at me. “How might our interpretation of the reading change if she was Asian American, black, or a mixture of both?” Crickets drowned out by cicadas, whose rhythmic pulse-buzzing resounded on this hot-sweaty Japanese summer day. I’m …

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Author in This Series

Lon Kurashige is professor of history at the University of Southern California, where he teaches classes on immigration, race relations, and Asian Americans. He has received multiple awards to teach and research in Japan, including two Fulbright fellowships and an Abe grant, sponsored by the Social Science Research Council. His books include the prize-winning Japanese American Celebration and Conflict: A History of Ethnic Identity and Festival in Los Angeles, 1934-1980; Two Faces of Exclusion: The Untold History of Anti-Asian Racism in the United States; and Pacific America: Histories of Transoceanic Crossings. He has authored numerous scholarly articles, as well as college-level textbooks on US history and Asian American history.

Born and raised in southern California, he is father of two adult sons, and a lay practitioner of Zen who descends from nearly 500 years of Buddhist priests in Japan. He is currently writing a memoir with the working title “Home Leaver: A Japanese American Journey in Japan.” Write to him at kurashig@usc.edu and follow him on Facebook

Updated April 2023

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