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Adventures in Shiiba - February 1995
Erik Kassebaum

Christmas in Petaluma

I spent Christmas with my family this year. Though my vacation was long, time seemed to go by too fast. For my friends and family, my appearance in Petaluma was a rather fleeting thing. I was there. It was good. Then, I was gone.

While in Petaluma I told many stories about life in Shiiba. Most of the people I talked to were envious as to my living in such a wonderful place. Because most of my friends thought of Japan as a highly industrialized and very urban country, they found my tales of life in the country to be quite refreshing.

Things Change

Since moving to Japan in July of 1993 I've been home three times. The first two times I went home the changes felt like they were taking place at a slow but steady rate. It was pretty easy for me to deal with the changes. This time, the rate of change was much greater. When you leave home people don't stop what they are doing and wait for you to return - they move on with their lives. America is a very mobile society and people move about once every four years.

One of the most significant things to affect me was the fact that many of my friends had moved to other cites, states and even to other countries. Imagine leaving Shiiba for a year or two and finding that most of your friends had moved. Now imagine that the Shiiba you knew was full of strangers.

Friends and Family

Please don't think that all of my friends had left and that I was terribly alone for I was able to find where many of my friends had moved to and I was able to make contact with them. During my time in Petaluma I had a chance to think about the things that are important to me. At the top of my list are friends and family. While in Petaluma I had time to reflect upon how many friends I've made in Shiiba and how important friendship is. Embarrassment prevents me from telling you where things like pizza, coffee, cheese, good beer, books, magazines and average highway speeds of 100 kilometers/hour rank on my list of things that are important to me.

Communication and Distance

Not everything about my trip home was pleasant. While back home I found out about things that my family had decided not to tell me about over the phone. They felt, as do I, that some things should not be said over the phone. Some things are best discussed face to face. Though videophones are not far off, they will not be a substitute for "being there." Videophones will never be able to give you a hug, wipe away a tear, shake your hand, or let you play with a puppy.

Topic for Discussion

The greatest danger that rural Japan faces is not foreign agricultural products but rather the loss of its younger generations to life in big cities. About 40% of Shiiba's Junior High School students move into a dormitory when they are 12 years old. If they go to high school and then to college they will have spent almost 10 years away from their families. Ten years is a long time to be away from home. Perhaps it's time for people to think about ways to keep families together. By the way, if a High School were to be built in Shiiba it should have a curriculum that meets the needs of the local community.