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Kon’nichiwa, Japan. We Meet Again

Where do I even begin? This has been such a long road (and plane ride LOL) to get back to Japan as a family of five. I guess I should start with こんにちは (Kon’nichiwa), which means “hello” in Japanese, and give a little bit of a back story.

My husband, Thomas, has played professional basketball in Japan for over ten years. I didn’t move overseas with him until 2015, and my first four years in Japan were simply amazing. Not just the culture and country that molds Japan, but I found out so much about myself. I connected with God on such a deep level, and my family grew immensely closer than I could have understood I needed. For that, I will always be grateful. Gunma, the first prefecture in Japan I lived in, will always feel like home.

But it’s been a journey to get back here.

My son, Tyler, was born in Japan in January of 2019. It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience, one I hope to never experience again. Cultural differences from home to Japan are significant, especially when it comes to medical care.

A Black man with his two Black sons standing under the Cherry Blossoms in Japan
Thomas, Little Thomas, and Tyler in Japan shortly after Tyler was born

So, eight months later when I was holding a positive pregnancy test in the bathroom of my Japanese apartment, there was no doubt I would be going home. I ran home. I found out I was pregnant at the beginning of September and was home by Halloween.

Little did I know, I would not cross the Japanese border again until now.

I’m sure you can guess the main reason: COVID. When the pandemic began, I was eight months pregnant with Taylor. In May 2020, I had her in my hometown with my mom by my side and my husband in Japan. Because of the strict travel restrictions, Thomas wasn’t able to come home for her birth. To say it was difficult is an understatement.

My tiny Taylor Grace

We had never been apart for ten months. That ten months turned into 18, eighteen months on different continents on opposite sides of the world.

It was the perfect storm of events and circumstances that were unique to us that kept us apart.

So, I set my sights on heading back to Japan as a family in the fall of 2021. That did not happen. Passport delays, embassy closings, and visa issues put us back in the “long-distance” category. In the fall of 2021, Japan closed its borders again and would not even process our visa applications.

When the borders opened again last spring, hope began to bloom for us to reunite because everyone’s visas were approved. My husband came home in May with our full family visa to take to the embassy, and our flights were booked for the end of the summer. We were finally going to be a family together again. Life was as it should be…

…until it wasn’t. The day before our flights, I tested positive for COVID.

My husband had to get back to Japan to begin preseason with his team, which meant I had to travel to Japan with all three kids – a two-year-old, a three-year-old, and a tween – all on my own. I was devastated.

I had to face it and be a big girl. I had to fly around the world with all three kids. And outside of my anxiety, the travel experience was actually really nice. The kids did amazingly. They played well, slept well, and were truly the best kids on the plane.

A Black family traveling to Japan
Headed to Japan solo with all three kids!

I can finally say we are back in Japan!

It feels great to be back in Japan and not shoulder the whole load of our family alone. There is a mental shift we all go through. We’re never able to be with everyone. Every year, we say “so long” to someone we love. It is a 12-hour flight home. We can’t just hop up and be there for special occasions. We’ve lost someone and not been able to attend the funeral or missed something very important almost every season we’ve been gone.

There’s a tension between grieving what we leave behind with an excitement of the new adventure, friends we will meet, and memories we will make.

Now that we’re here, the jet lag is starting to simmer and we are feeling more settled. Our new house is amazing, and we get to make it home as a family of five. There are also other American families on our team with kids around the same ages! We cannot wait to see what relationships will unfold.

Reunited with old friends!

Every year, we make a family bucket list that includes places we want to see, experiences we want to make, food to try, and small family goals, too.

Here are my top three favorites for this season:

  1. Visit the bamboo forest in Kyoto

  2. Go to Okinawa

  3. See Mt. Fuji.

乾杯 (cheers) to a successful and healthy season for Team Kennedy!

1 Comment

Brandy Henderson
Brandy Henderson
Aug 19, 2022

This was absolutely beautiful. Your story is amazing. The dymanics of your family evolving over time in different places is TRULY AMAZING. Your strength in your story is truly encouraging to all families whose impacted by a partner/spouse traveling or living apart to provide for there family. You guys are definitely and inspiration of prayer, family hard-work & the trust of togetherness.

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