Home is where the heart and/or Japan is

Opinions - November 1st, 2002
Robert J. Collins

by Robert J. Collins

Of all the things I’ve done in life, and of all the things that have happened to me, I’ve never been kidnapped! It’s my guess most people have never been kidnapped. (I could be wrong. I once wrote that I never knew anyone who was abused as a child by a parent. Dozens of let­ters came in from former abusees suggesting my head was buried in the sand.)

A guy in my neighborhood when I was growing up was kid­napped—by his father who was divorced from his mother. One day the guy was there, living with his mother and playing ball with us, and the next day he was gone. I ran into him 15 years lat­er and he said that being whisked away by his father was the best thing that ever happened to him. He had to learn Swedish, however.

Anyway, kidnapping is a crime more terrible and cruel than anything I can imagine. We can only judge from afar, but it is so permanently horrible that very few things compare. A life ripped up and replanted in alien soil is touch and go.

Having said that, I’m watch­ing the temporary return from Korea of the five kidnap victims with some ambivalence. (Who can’t be watching them? If they were still in town, they’d be throwing out the first pitch for the Japan Series. I’m surprised they’re not down in my living room right now.)

I will concede the point that had they really had a burning desire to return to Japan during the past 24 years they could have figured out a way to do it. I guess they couldn’t. Who knows what goes on in a police state? Still… They weren’t in shackles and chains. A friend here, an embassy there?

But here they finally are. Their presence in their home­towns has brought joy tinged with the sadness of “what might have been” to friends and fami­ly. Their presence has also excited the news media to the birth-in-the-Imperial-Family level of exuberance.

What bothers me a little is the rather sudden and emotion­ally charged demands of relatives here in Japan to get to the bot­tom of what happened to all 28 (or however many) people kid­napped 24 years ago. Most of them dying and being buried in graves that floated away does sound absurd, but where were the cries for information 20 years ago, 15, two years ago?

And isn’t this the same Japan that is still stone-walling on the issue of tens of thousands of Korean “comfort women” whose role under durance was a whole lot worse than working as language instructors? Some­thing’s a little out of whack here. It seems to me that the kidnapped gang now visiting the homeland has greater problems ahead than anything they’ve faced in the past. It’s for them an issue of both the heart and the practicalities of life. I feel I must say this in a whisper because no native of Japan can even begin to understand it. Ssshhh. Not everyone wants to come back home, at least on the terms of others.

Not everyone wants to come back home! The tall guy has three teenagers who don’t realize they’re Japanese. They think they’re Korean. Yet the tall guy’s brother is demanding that the government issue passports for the kids and send them to Japan in 10 days. Wait a minute, the tall guy must be saying, “I’ve got issues. The family, etc., etc., etc.” The woman who came over leaving her husband behind? He’s an American who it appears deserted the U.S. Army. He can’t come over here without a whole slew of guarantees from various governments. Anyway he might like it in Korea. He defected there.

And the other guy men­tioned several times that he and his wife have good jobs teaching at an institute. His demeanor may be like a robot, brainwashed as some claimed, but he did say that. Maybe it’s true.

I am certain there are other little stories within the story and I really don’t care about the details. But as I watch the saga unfold, it becomes obvious that the kidnapping has had a perma­nent impact on those involved, but I also realize that “coming home” is not an automatic solu­tion to the problems—despite what Japanese think about “every­one wanting to come home.” It’s more complicated than that.

(Tom Wolfe? Yes, Tom Wolfe.)