MYRTLE CREEK — One man’s two-week reunion with long-lost relatives in Japan started with a letter from overseas and a phone call from a post office.
“I cried for two weeks. There was so much emotion for me,” said Tom McFarland, 65.
McFarland’s overseas adventure began with a phone call from the Myrtle Creek Post Office, inquiring if he had once lived at another address in town. The post office had received a letter addressed to McFarland’s previous residence, a place where he hadn’t lived for 45 years. McFarland said he went to pick the letter up without knowing what to expect.
The letter was from a Hitomi Tsuchiya in Japan. It read, “My father and your mother are brother and sister. We are cousins.”
McFarland was born in Japan in 1948 to a Japanese woman and an American serviceman. He knew he had family in Japan but had never made contact with them.
Tsuchiya happened to come across McFarland’s old address while sorting through his parents’ belongings after they died.
McFarland and his mother moved to Myrtle Creek when he was about 3 ½ years old to live with his father’s parents.
In May, about eight months after McFarland received his cousin’s letter, he and his wife, Susan, traveled to Japan.
McFarland brushed up on his Japanese, and he greeted his cousin at the airport with, “Hello, longtime no see” in Japanese. His cousin replied in English, “Good Japanese.”
His cousin writes well in English but speaks little of the language, so his wife, Keiko, translated. They also used pocket dictionaries and phone translator applications.
“We were able to communicate pretty well,” McFarland said.
The house where McFarland was born belonged to his Japanese grandparents. When they died, Tsuchiya’s father inherited the house and passed it on to McFarland’s cousin.
“It was surreal walking up to the house I was born in,” he said.
McFarland’s mother stayed in contact with the family during the first 10 years after she moved to the United States. But then, she became too homesick, McFarland said.
McFarland took some of his mother’s ashes to Japan to be placed in a temple among other relatives.
“My mom never got to go back. She would be pleased that she’s back with her parents and siblings,” McFarland said.
While in Japan, Tsuchiya asked McFarland’s permission to call the courthouse to have McFarland’s citizenship documented. That same day, McFarland obtained official dual citizenship, he said.
McFarland and his family also went to Yokohama Harbor, where McFarland and his mother were housed before they departed for the United States, he said.
“My mother told me my grandparents were crying and begging her to leave me in Japan,” McFarland said. “I guess you could say I left one set of grieving grandparents to meet another set of smiling grandparents.”
Neither McFarland nor his mother knew how to speak English at the time. The only word McFarland could say right away was “grandpa.” However, within a month, he had forgotten most of the Japanese language and eventually taught his mother English, he said.
At the end of McFarland’s first week in Japan, the family had a reunion celebration.
McFarland met many of his cousins. His uncle, who wasn’t able to make it, also called from Hiroshima. His wife spoke for him and said he was sorry he couldn’t be at the reunion. His uncle reminisced about packing McFarland around on his shoulders when he was young.
McFarland said other notable sites the family visited while in Japan were Kyoto, the original capital city of Japan, and Tokyo, to see the emperor’s palace.
They also went to Yokohama stadium, where Tsuchiya’s father played professional baseball and managed the team for many years, McFarland said.
By the end of the visit Tsuchiya still couldn’t get over the fact that the letter had reached McFarland.
“My cousin kept saying, ‘It’s a miracle,’ and he wrote to thank the post office,” McFarland said.
Since his return to the states, McFarland has kept in contact with Tsuchiya and family through email and Facebook.
“I was nervous before for the unexpected,” McFarland said. “Now, I want to go back. It is a wonderful country.”
• Reporter Jessica Prokop can be reached at 541-957-4209 and firstname.lastname@example.org.