Sometimes it’s hard to believe the American that emerged, naked and naive, from Narita International Airport back in 2004 and the person writing this column are one and the same. Life in Japan has made me, unmade me and remade me. I’ve unpacked and sorted through all sorts of koto (generally, things without material form such as ideas and feelings), uncovering things about myself that I likely wouldn’t have if I had stayed in the U.S. Some of these changes have been minor, others major, yet each represents “the Creator’s hands in molding your character into the wiser, more worldly, man you are now,” as my mama once told me.

Mama would be pleased to hear that some of those values and ideals she instilled in me have managed to remain intact. I still respect my elders as well as people who respect me. I still think for myself and stand behind those thoughts — right or wrong. I’ve even managed to retain a value she has often lauded: in almost all situations, whether or not it places you in a good light, honesty is the best policy — particularly in regards to oneself. However, there has been one casualty that would certainly disappoint her. My life in Japan has often called into question the universality of an ideal she held in high regard: One should refrain from judging other humans by anything other than the content of their character.

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