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Sunday, Sept. 16, 2001

WHEN EAST MARRIES WEST

Come together, right now


"East is East and West is West and never the twain shall meet," Rudyard Kipling once wrote.

This quote has inspired the title for both my humorous blinks at international marriage and Don Maloney's classic Japan Times column of years ago, "Never the Twain," which also poked fun at life in Japan.

Yet, at the moment nothing seems even remotely funny. Mesmerized by the carnage on the TV screen late last Tuesday night and on into Wednesday morning, I admit to having had no first thoughts whatsoever -- not even knee jerk reactions. Instead I felt crushed by an immeasurable sorrow that left me unable to shuffle from my liv- ingroom.

Like all of America, like all of Japan, like all of the world, I drowned in disbelief. I yearned to have the lights flick on, the credits roll and for the bad movie to end. But it would not.

And in the long grisly hours that have followed I have come to feel that East and West can meet -- and not only in the laughter and tears of a domestic comedy. In this scripted terror, the shared emotions of shock, grief and compassion have boldly erased boundaries of culture and nation.

The ties between America and Japan are complex and not always so friendly. Yet, in the flames of tragedy, never have I felt so grateful for the care and concern of my adopted homeland. My Japanese wife feels a similar sense of closeness to my country, as if our bond was fused even tighter by the furnace of disaster.

And I wonder . . . beyond the wider scope of all who have suffered, how many families with Japan-American links were wrenched by the horrific events of 11 Sept? The number, including not only those in international marriages but also business people, exchange students and tourists, cannot be small. This is without even counting all the expatriates with New York and Washington connections.

Sitting in west Tokyo I can feel all the frantic phone calls, e-mails and prayers racing across the sea. I've made them myself. The husband of my niece works in Manhattan. Only late Wednesday night were we at last able to confirm that he was not a victim and is indeed safe.

Yet, somehow we are all victims, aren't we? We have been galvanized by a sense of humanity heightened by television coverage that put us all right at the scene.

This day there is no East or West. There is only us. Us -- and the perpetrators, and their supporters. Who I hope will turn out to be a very small body.

Today we are all brothers and sisters. Except for those perpetrators. They are not in the family.



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