Mary`s Journey from New York to Sydney, Australia to Tokyo, Japan
Memorial Service January 2000 Tokyo, Japan
Mary Wilson was at her Japanese husband`s memorial service in Tokyo, Japan where she had been living for several years. Her two daughters were with her. She didn`t think her husband would pass away this quickly, as he had only spent six months in terminal care after he had been diagnosed of pancreatic cancer. Everything was a daze; her unfamiliarity with the language and the proceedings of the memorial service were things she was totally unprepared for and she had no idea of what to expect. Her husband Yasushi had been a professor at a prominent university in Tokyo, Japan, and his former colleague, Professor Suzuki, who spoke fluent English was by her side, giving her instructions as to what to do.
Mary remained strong and did not shed a tear. While Yasushi was being cremated, the people attending the service were made to wait in the lobby. Only her older daughter was in the lobby speaking to the family of Yasushi`s former colleague. Then came the procedure of placing the bones in the urn. Mary and her two daughters went through the procedure and did not shed a tear, though it was very hard for an outsider to decipher the emotions they were feeling at the moment. Mary knew that she would have to die as a foreigner in Tokyo if she wanted to be buried with Yasushi.
New York City 1959-1964
Mary Wilson was born in Indiana in 1936 and graduated from the Rhode Island School of Design. She moved to New York City to work at an advertisement agency in 1959. Yasushi Tanaka was born in Tokyo in 1932 and attended a prominent university in Tokyo but dropped out due to an illness. He moved to the U.S. and attended Princeton University and after receiving his M.A. in business, he took up a job at the United Nations where he worked in the population studies department.
The two met at an event and immediately started dating. Interracial couples were rare in those days, and Mary remembers how people gave she and Yasushi cold stares as they walked down the streets of New York City. A Japanese man with a caucasian woman... "why aren`t you dating your own race?" the people with cold stares seem to want to say. Nevertheless, they were in love and determined to be with each other. In 1962, she married Yasushi Tanaka. They both continued with their jobs until the birth of their daughter in 1964.
On to Australia
While Yasushi and Mary`s daughter was still a toddler, Yasushi received a scholarship to pursue a doctorate in business at a university in Canberra, Australia. They decided to move to Australia though Yasushi initially did not want to leave his job at the United Nations.
The family settled in an on campus apartment in Canberra. Yasushi worked hard to receive his doctorate while Mary was busy caring for their daughter. After receiving his doctorate, Yasushi received a job offer as assistant professor at a university in Sydney. The family moved to Sydney and there, Mary gave birth to their second daughter.
Sydney, Australia became their permanent home while Yasushi was eventually promoted to full professor. He founded the research center within the business department which conducted research on comparing Japanese and Australian management practices.
Mary took up a job teaching art at a public elementary school. She illustrated several children`s books as well. The theme of several books she illustrated was centered on Japan. The family purchased a home in the suburbs of Sydney. All seemed to be going well.
A Visitor From Tokyo, Japan
As Yasushi approached retirement age, he began to seriously consider retiring in Tokyo, Japan, where he had grown up. He dropped out of a prominent university in Tokyo so he did not have a degree from a Japanese university nor did he ever hold a job in Japan. He had lost touch with most of his friends and acquaintances over the years.
In 1980, three professors from Yasushi`s alma mater visited the business research center Yasushi headed in Sydney. They were looking for an institution where they could set up an exchange professor program. This would be like an exchange of visiting professors between the two institutions over a period of five years. Yasushi could not believe his luck. Forming a relationship with the university he once attended could directly lead to him obtaining a position. Needless to say, the exchange professor program between Yasushi`s alma mater and the business research center became official soon after.
Yasushi did not become one of the exchange professors, but during the exchange period, he took very good care of Mr. Yamamoto and his family who served as exchange professor in 1981. He helped them look for a house to live in, and took care of Mr. Yamamoto`s day to day affairs at the research center. He also visited his alma mater on several occasions and got to know the faculty there.
After the end of the exchange program, Mr. Yamamoto told Yasushi that he is willing to help him obtain a position at the university in Tokyo.
Yasushi discussed this with Mary. Mary was not very happy with Yasushi`s intention to move to Tokyo and take up a position at his alma mater, since that would mean she would have to accompany him. Apart from several visits to Japan, she had never lived there and was for the most part unfamiliar with the language and customs of the country. She and Yasushi always spoke to each other in English and she couldn`t imagine learning Japanese and attaining a level of fluency that would allow her to converse in Japanese.
On to Tokyo, Japan
After many discussions with Mary, Yasushi decided to take up a position at his alma mater. Mary was happy that Yasushi finally established a meaningful connection with his native country, but she had to make some life changing decisions for herself. Was she going to permanently relocate to Tokyo, or will she continue to live in Sydney and illustrate children`s books while visiting Yasushi only occasionally?
Yasushi decided he will not wait for Mary to make up her mind. He wanted to be at his alma mater for the new school year and be ready to teach in Japanese which was a new endeavor for him.
Living in Tokyo
For two years, Mary travelled back and forth between Tokyo and Sydney. At first, they thought of renting out their house in Sydney under the assumption that Yasushi might decide to move back to Sydney. However, after two years it became obvious that Yasushi was comfortable in his new position at his alma mater despite the initial reverse cultural shock and dealing with Japanese formalities. His elderly mother passed away, and he was glad that he was by her side. It would have been very difficult to do so if he were still living in Sydney.
Finally, they decided to sell their house in Sydney. Their two grown daughters also relocated to Tokyo.
Yasushi and Mary took up residence in a condo near Yasushi`s alma mater. Mary was able to find some English speaking friends, but for the most part, she was not very happy with life in Tokyo. She struggled to learn the language, but it was very difficult. If one did not grow up in Japan, it was challenging to acquire the language, especially if one was middle-aged or older.
Yasushi was happy at his alma mater but also tried very hard to understand his wife`s situation. She was essentially a foreigner in Japan, unfamiliar with both the language and the customs. He didn`t force her to learn the language and the couple continued to converse in English, just like they always did. However, Yasushi became upset on a few occasions when Mary didn`t understand certain customs. When a package arrived from an acquaintance, she was supposed to use a stamp on the receipt that was handed to her by the carrier instead of signing the receipt. If the package was an "ochugen" or "oseibo" ( a mid-year and the end-of-the year gift to someone you respect) she was supposed to call or write to them preferably in Japanese, thanking them for the gift. How could she follow through with these customs when she had never lived in Japan in the past? If she wrote them a thank you note in English, would they understand?
Yasushi had been a smoker for most of his adult life although he had tried to quit several times. He switched to pipe smoking in his later years, but was still unable to quit. "He would be so angry when he tried to quit". Mary explained to her friend with a smile. She didn`t resent the fact that he never succeeded in quitting.
Unfortunately, this all took a toll on his health. In 1999, he was diagnosed of pancreatic cancer. The cancer had already progressed to the third stage and Yasushi was forced to take time off work and receive treatment. His condition worsened and he was admitted to a hospice a few months later.
Just six months after entering the hospice, Yasushi passed away at the age of 69, leaving his wife of 38 years and his two daughters behind.
Yasushi`s colleagues and some of his students were at the memorial service. None of Mary`s relatives were there, since her parents had passed away a long time ago and it was too far for her friends in Sydney to come to Tokyo for the memorial service.
Mr. Yamamoto, his wife and his grown children were all there. They received a lot of help from Yasushi when Mr. Yamamoto was living in Sydney as exchange professor. Yasushi and Mary`s older daughter remarked to Mr. Yamamoto`s daughters that she wished her father hadn`t passed away so soon.
After the death of her husband, Mary Wilson continued to live in Tokyo near Yasushi`s alma mater. She found the opportunity to illustrate a few children`s books with Japanese themes. She also taught English occasionally. She thought of returning to Indiana or Sydney on several occasions, but where will she be buried if she did?
She wanted to be buried with Yasushi, her beloved husband, even if it meant she would die as a foreigner in Japan.
Mr. Yamamoto remarked that he felt very sorry for Mary and her daughters, but Yasushi must have been happy, being able to reconnect with his alma mater and be buried in his native country.
In 2015, Mr. Yamamoto and his wife received a letter from Yasushi and Mary`s daughter. Mary Wilson had passed away in Tokyo at the age of 79.
She was cremated and buried alongside her beloved husband, Yasushi Tanaka.