Reuniting with a host-family
By Dustin White
Mandan News, editor
It has been 35 years since Reiko Tokukatsu attended school at Mandan High. Unlike many others who left those classes behind, having graduated or moving to a different school in the state, Tokukatsu had boarded a plane and flew to Japan: her home.
When Tokukatsu originally came to Mandan, as a foreign exchange student during the fall of 1978, she was just 15 years old and eager to learn.
“I had wanted to learn English more directly, and the culture as well, so I came to America,” Tokukatsu said. “My teacher had encouraged me to take the trip.”
Arriving in North Dakota was a shock, but that was expected said Tokukatsu. The largest shock to her though was having to be taken places and not being able to walk everywhere.
Tokukatsu quickly adapted and began just taking in the new experiences.
“When she was here, she would walk around Mandan and just take in the sights,” Honey Shaw, Tokukatsu host-mother, said. “She was very brave, for being that young and being thrown into this atmosphere.”
During her time here, she was often a visitor at the post office, as she wrote her mother in Japan quite often.
“Our friend was the post master at that time, he was a big man, and one time he told us that he had looked up, and here was this little Japanese girl who just wandered in and started asking questions,” Shaw said.
It was this learning that she had wanted to take in. It was a chance to immerse herself in not only the language, but also the culture. There were hurdles in the way, such as a partial language barrier, but she cleared them.
“Maybe I didn’t speak English that well, but I could manage,” Tokukatsu said.
When she did leave back to Japan, she took home much more than just a better understanding of English and our culture, she had also gained a new family.
After returning to Japan, Tokukatsu was a year behind her former classmates. She was aware that by traveling to North Dakota meant that she would have to take a year off of school. While the purpose was for academics, the courses that she took in Mandan would not count towards her schooling in
Japan. Nevertheless, Tokukatsu decided to take that the journey was worth it, and found that the experience was formative. Back at school in Japan, she was also able to make friends with an entirely new set of students.
“My nickname with my new classmates was big sister,” Tokukatsu said.
Now, after more than three decades, Tokukatsu, who is now a bond analyst, returned to Mandan. While she has been back before, after she finished her undergraduate in 1986, this return was a bit different. She was not traveling alone, but was accompanied by her three children: 17-year-old twin daughters and a son turning 11.
For them, this was their first time being to the United States, and to the home where their mother had lived for a year. It was an important experience. Not only were her children able to see the place that helped shape their mother’s life, but they also were able to see a different world.
“It’s quite important to learn something different,” Tokukatsu said. “You live in one place, and that that is how things are.”
“Traveling is important to see what you have,” Kelley (Shaw) Reuer, Tokukatsu’s host-sister, said.
Returning also brought back memories for Tokukatsu. As the family talked, they relived many little moments together. The trip also made many new memories though, especially for her kids, who have only lived in large cities.
One of the largest impacts was visiting the shopping markets and malls. The size of items was quite different than what one found in Japan. It was just bigger in North Dakota: bigger goods, bigger space.
“Anything that size is interesting,” Tokukatsu said.
Her children appeared to enjoy the trip as well, with her twin daughters agreeing they would like to return if they got the chance. For them, the language barrier was a bit less; however, the three of them did learn English in school and understood very well. In their home though, Japanese was usually spoken.
“Sometimes when mom gets angry, she speaks English though,” Tokukatsu children said.
Whether Tokukatsu would return to Mandan in the future wasn’t definite, but she had enjoyed being back, and reconnecting with her host-family.
“I don’t want to break a promise if I made one,” Tokukatsu said. “So I don’t know if I will come back, but I’m grateful for being welcomed back.