I won’t return (home) now

Yesterday, September 30, 2020, my mission with the Japan Foundation officially came to an end, and so was my stay in Japan supposed to. In contrast to former journeys, which were rather of short nature yet sometimes extended through spontaneous decisions, this one was connected to a 12-months fellowship. When leaving Europe in September 2019, the term was set, though knowing that I would have a whole year ahead gave a long perspective. 

With a lot of imagination, a big portion of enthusiasm, and in order to have the full experience (and to benefit from a remarkably friendly service and tasty meals aboard), I was headed off with a Japanese airline. A wonderful decision, which allowed me to be surrounded by the people of the country from my take-off in Paris and to dive into the culture from the very beginning on. I remember well how I was impressed by the calmness of the staff as well as the serenity of the other passengers, when in the middle of the flight an old man suddenly fainted whilst waiting in front of the washrooms. He ended up gaining consciousness yet lost it several further times during the flight. I am not really sure how he got away with it, but I calmly observed that he was respected by all and being taken very well care of.

Anyway, from the day I arrived in beloved Tōkyō, things went extremely fast. Starting with an event the same night that I had landed, happenings were so frequent that I got used to being out almost permanently and as I tried to conduct my research as seriously and intensely as possible and followed the writing of these blogs with almost meticulous rigorousness I usually ended up realising on Sunday evenings that the week was already over. I was introduced to various people and got conscious about the importance of the over the years built-up friendships, an estimated personal, - and professional network. Slowly but steadily, and the longer I stayed in Japan, the more it became clear that going back to Europe would feel incredibly difficult. 

With the unusual sanitary situation, I was often asked if I would not return home, I myself however saw absolutely no reason to head anywhere else. After all, living in Japan at the time preceding, during and following the State of Emergency has so far been a rather smooth experience, but more to this maybe someday in future. The other part of not-going-home leads to a longer personal conflict – about what I consider as home. I remember when some while ago, I was asked at a group dinner with highly appreciated people “Louise, where is your home ? Is it Paris… ? Switzerland… ? Here…? …”. The group as well as myself laughed, and by the time I engaged a seemingly philosophical speech, I probably already lost most of my listeners. Home, repeatedly referred to in my photographical worksHome has for me always been rather a feeling than a place, respectively, a place that would change depending on my feeling. 

For many years, home was Basel, where I was born, and where I lived my childhood. However, I did by then almost reject my Swiss nationality and would intentionally describe myself as a person from my hometown rather than from the country. Maybe, this is partly due to the fact that Switzerland, though small in terms of its geographical extension and inhabitants, counts four official languages and relatively distinctive parts, some of which I can probably less identify myself than with several foreign countries. For short, I thought home may be (or at least become) Canada. Then, home was Paris. France though only to several extents. So far in my life, and long-lasting namely the South-West. It was when I started to more frequently visit Japan, that my feeling about Paris changed, and it seemed like a very slow, sometimes painful separation between a city and me – to the benefit of a new, inspiring and sincere relation with an other city: Tōkyō. 

I have always been conscious that I will stay a foreigner in Japan, no matter how long I may remain here, and the fact that I live in a country which’s language I don’t even fluently maîtrise does not make things easier. Though, it has shown me that one doesn’t always need a great knowledge of a language to communicate; I have thus far felt incredibly welcomed and well surrounded, and I continue to daily get fascinated and inspired. 

Curiously, it was around the time I started to admit that I could not imagine leaving this place on earth, that the Tōkyō 2020 Games were postponed. From many people I have heard how negative the year 2020 is and how happy they are that it shall soon come to an end. Certainly, it was unexpected and rough and I count doubtlessly amongst the most privileged ones. So, for me, it has been full of changes, but not only unfavourable ones. Somehow, the sanitary situation and the postponement of the Tōkyō 2020 Games gave me clarification and I would be lying if I would say not also a good and eligible reason to remain for longer in the country I am so much dedicated to.   

Even though my mission with the Japan Foundation (to which I once again would like to express my deep gratitude) came to terms, it has been agreed that I can and shall for the time being continue my projects here in Japan. I am thankful for the many experiences, the fruitful research and the professional and personal elucidation this mission has brought me, and for the many human beings it has introduced me to. I am looking forward to a continuation, may it be under new linesFairly often, I was asked when I would (have to) leave Japan or when I would return home… 

There is hardly any other place I now wish to be, and currently, Japan feels like home to me. 

“Hello” - “Welcome to Japan”, Drawings for Tōkyō 2020 along Shinjuku-Dōri Avenue, Tōkyō, September 2020 © Louise Claire Wagner

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