By DEBORAH DAVIDSON
Japan is the only home I have ever known. Yet, born to non-Japanese parents, married to a non-Japanese man, and with two non-Japanese children, every day is a struggle to get people to see past the physical characteristics that mark me as an outsider, or gaijin.
Hand-painted images with a few thoughtful words, the Japanese use this traditional form of mail art to mark the changing of seasons, to express appreciation for a gift, to rejoice in a friend’s good fortune, or to share news. I was bitten by the Etegami bug while working as a cross-cultural adviser in rural Hokkaido.
Experience had taught me that the best way to be accepted by taciturn villagers was to work alongside them in silence, rather than engaging in conversation.
I joined community activities such as Tree-planting Day in May and Beach-Cleaning Day in July. During the Summer Festival I steamed pork buns under a tent in the wilting heat. The community gradually got used to me and forgot I was gaijin.
The biggest change in my status, however, came after I joined the Etegami club. Thrilled to have new blood, the older members sighed over my feeble early efforts and rejoiced when my skill improved.
I can no longer imagine life without Etegami. It satisfies my soul and continues to shrink the gap between me and those who might otherwise keep me at a distance.
What skill have you mastered that shrinks a gap of perception in your life?
Deborah Davidson has been translating professionally for over thirty years; everything from patents and business contracts to Ainu folklore and the novels of best-selling Japanese author Miura Ayako.
Editor note: If you love these playful images like we do, here’s where you can purchase items imprinted with them.