Friday, September 1, 2017


Hurricane Harvey made me think of home: what home means, what home means to people when they lose theirs. Under entirely different circumstances, I asked myself that question when we prepared to move to Tokyo. It's a question all of us can ask: what does home mean to me?


I stand in the backyard and stare back at our house. Like a Peeping Tom, I look through the windows at the golden glow that the lights cast on the fawn-colored walls, on the well-read books, and the blue paisley sofas of our family room. It is early evening and I am saying goodbye to our house.

We are about to leave on a journey that will take us out of the country for the next five and a half years. I know as I stand on the ground in the backyard that our life as we know it was over.

I ask myself, "How will I ever bring this sense of 'home,' this feeling of warmth and stability, to a high-rise apartment in the middle of Tokyo? How can I uproot our eight-year old son and expect him to fit in easily in a new and very different place that is thousands of miles away?"

View from our apartment overlooking Hiroo shopping street

My husband Bill is confident that moving is a good thing. By the time he started high school, he had moved across the United States from Newport News, Virginia, to Philadelphia, to Cincinnati to Decatur, Illinois, to finally, Los Altos, California. He learned to make friends quickly by joining extra-curricular activities. He felt he benefited from the challenge of being the 'new kid' in each place.

I had moved away from home only when I left for college. By then, I was ready to extend my roots and explore new places. But that was my decision, not my parents.

Bill and I moved to Danville when we were 30, changing houses there three times before we found our present house,  before we moved to Tokyo. We had long time friends, our son Theo was in a small public school that was well-suited to his temperament, we had a dog and cat, and I volunteered at Theo's school and with various groups in Danville. We were established in our community. I knew, by moving, that I was giving up my dreams of going back to work now that our son was older. (I wasn't allowed to work while we were overseas.)

I was looking forward to our move to Tokyo, to the adventure of living overseas in a culture that I had been fascinated by since college. I was excited by the possibility of living in a place so different from our own. But as a mother, I was concerned about the transition for Theo with this move.

Little did I know as looked at the scene in the window how much of a life-changing time this move would be.

Theo and his friends in our Tokyo apartment. His friends came from Japan, India, Sweden, Australia and the U.S.

International Food Fair at Nishimachi International School, the school Theo attended.

MOVING TO TOKYO is the first in a series of essays about our life overseas called LETTERS HOME.

Watching the events unfold in Texas shows how much we have learned from our experiences in dealing with major disasters since Katrina. People have stepped in to help when help was needed. This week those helpers showed the best of ourselves.

Home is not only a building but the community that comes forward to help others wherever you may be.


  1. Wow Martha, I am looking forward to this series and the might even make a book for you.
    Happy Birthday to a very special friend! Let's talk lunch!

    1. A book is my intent. I'm working on revisions so the series will come on the blog over time.


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