Shinayo Mori, my grandma, was born in 1899, outside the city of Hiroshima. She arrived in Honolulu as a shy, introverted picture bride at age 17. Her marriage was arranged by her parents and uncle. The groom would later be my grandfather, Shinichi Mori.
I was stung by her death in 1990. She had been fighting terminal colon cancer. The doctor had said it was only a matter of time before she would be gone. Chemotherapy and radiation were out of the question because of her advanced age. His prognosis was only nine months, but she lived seven more years.
Fourteen years before her death, my dad and I traveled to Japan. At age 12, this was my first trip outside the country, to the land of my ancestors. I was unsure what I would find as everything would be new and unusual.
The next day, we took the train to Shinjuku to visit my grandma’s nephew, Kiyoharu Yamada, and his family. After eating fresh strawberries at his house, we walked to one of the two tallest skyscrapers in Tokyo for dinner. I saw an ultra-modern Japan, but the air was thick with pollution.
Thirty years later, I returned to Japan with my sister, Candace. Compared to my first visit, the country was completely different. The air was clean, and modern buildings blended in with ornate temples and shrines with pastel-colored trees. We traveled to Tokyo, Kyoto, and at the last minute, Hiroshima, to peek at grandma’s hometown.
Upon arriving, we had a strong feeling of déjà vu about the city. My sister and I both imagined grandma walking the tree-lined streets long ago.
In 2015, I returned to Japan, but this time alone and with a purpose. I wanted to reconnect with Kiyoharu. He was now a retired teacher and living in Kamakura. I remember him visiting my grandma in Hawai‘i over the years. Grandma was fond of Kiyoharu, because he was the son of her older brother, a man she greatly admired.
The following day, I took the train from Yokohama to Kamakura. My backpack included omiyage and a carefully wrapped package — a restored portrait of my grandma’s family taken 80 years ago in Hiroshima.
Upon arrival at the train station, I immediately recognized Kiyoharu on the platform. He was older now, but I could still see his resemblance to my grandmother.
After giving the omiyage to him, I then bowed and presented the precious package, wrapped and tied with a bow. As he opened it, I explained that my grandmother had kept the original photo for all these years, and my older sister had recently restored it. He looked surprised and thanked me profusely for bringing him such a “priceless” gift from far away and long ago. “This is the first time, I have seen my grandparents.”
When departing, later that night, I took my seat on the train from Kamakura back to Yokohama. I glanced through the window to see Kiyoharu. As the train started to move, I could see Kiyoharu leaning forward to bow to me. I had done something for grandma.
Stuart Mori is a Yonsei, fourth-generation Japanese American. He was born and raised in Honolulu, Hawai‘i. He currently lives in Rocklin, Calif. He loves Japanese and Hawaiian culture. The views expressed in the preceding commentary are not necessarily those of the Nichi Bei Weekly.